As Osbourne lies in bed and considers the dark roast coffee grounds waiting in his kitchen cabinet, something occurs to him: He hasn’t slept a single night in the past month.
“That’s got to be some kind of record,” he says to the darkness. “I should call Guinness.”
Osbourne rises from his bed, stretches, yawns. He glances at the clock on his nightstand. It’s 3:34 a.m.
He trudges to the kitchen and fixes himself a pot of coffee. The dark roast. He pours, drinks, smiles. His cheeks redden.
Osbourne wonders if it’s possible to fall in love with a beverage.
Some people contaminate their coffee with sugar, milk, artificial creamer, and the like. Osbourne truly hates those people.
In Osbourne’s opinion, sweetness dilutes the flavor that should be strongest: The taste of the coffee bean, ground up and purified into the loveliest beverage in the world. He’s heard a rumor that the coffee bean is going extinct. If that ever happens, he says he’ll throw himself out the nearest window.
People always laugh at that. But he’s only half joking.
When he enters the office at seven a.m. sharp, a janitor walks by and waves. Osbourne sucks down the dregs from his thermos.
“Was that cup number five or number six?” the janitor asks flippantly.
“Eight,” Osbourne says seriously.
The janitor blinks. “You better be careful. You start having that much and you might not be able to sleep. Might even start seeing things.” He chuckles at that bit of hyperbole.
Osbourne does not. He glares at the janitor while he pours cup number nine. He doesn’t like when people laugh about the things he loves.
Osbourne has not slept in a month and a night.
He had 23 cups of coffee at work today, more than double his weekday average, and now that he’s lying in bed, all he can think about is cup number 24.
His mouth waters. Sweat gathers on his palms. He rolls over, tries to think about stocks, tomorrow’s board meeting, the slightly below expected year-over-year growth for this quarter. But every time he begins to drift off into dream, the images melt to black, then trickle down into a steaming mug of freshly-brewed coffee.
He can’t resist. Osbourne rises from his bed and fixes a fresh pot.
At the board meeting, Osbourne decides that he’s losing his mind.
Fred Miles, one of the company’s investors, sits at the far end of the table. He and the rest of the board are present, along with senior management.
Fred Miles looks dour. He always looks dour, and usually Osbourne doesn’t mind the dourness, but today it’s freaking him out. Because just above that dour face, Fred Miles wears a toupee—everyone knows it’s a toupee, it slides forward whenever he bends down to straighten his socks, but he still insists on wearing it. And as Osbourne stares at the toupee, his jaw drops.
The toupee dances.
This is the moment at which Osbourne decides he’s losing his mind. No one else seems to notice this little brown hairpiece gyrating and thrusting and swinging its hips like Elvis Presley. Hell, the thing’s practically humping Fred Miles’s forehead, yet everybody’s still watching the powerpoint.
“Osbourne?” Fred touches his toupee as if to check it’s still there. “You okay?”
“Okay,” Osbourne mutters. “Yes. Everything’s okay.”
He takes another sip of coffee.
That night, as Osbourne attempts sleep, he decides that he’s not actually going crazy. The more he turns it over in his mind, the more he thinks he had it all wrong.
It’s not him. It’s like that janitor said—the coffee’s making him hallucinate. For the first time in a month and two nights, Osbourne thinks he should consult a doctor.
“It’s not natural to be awake for a month and two nights straight, is it?” He receives no answer.
His alarm goes off. Time for work. He totters to his kitchen, and, force of habit being what it is, he reaches for the coffee pot. He stops himself.
“I’m going to have nothing but water today,” he announces to his apartment. His apartment says nothing in return.
Osbourne decides if the coffee loves him as much as he loves it, the coffee will understand.
Sometime during the afternoon, Osbourne falls asleep at his desk, and he doesn’t wake up.
He’s not dead. In fact, when his secretary calls 911 and the ambulance comes and takes him to the hospital and the doctors finally get a look at him, they’re baffled. He’s not in a coma. His vitals are A-okay, though his resting pulse is a good deal higher than the average. His brain is still functional. He even snores every now and then.
In the doctors’ professional opinions, it appears that Osbourne has simply committed wholeheartedly to a nap, due perhaps to extreme exhaustion.
The press renames Osbourne “Rip Van Winkle” because he sleeps for over a year.
Time Magazine does a piece on him. CNN, FOX News, and NBC all do specials on him. Universal options a script based on his life story, though it never quite makes it into production.
Osbourne is not in a coma, the doctors assure the world. He’s quite alive. He’s just sleeping.
“Must be some kind of a sleeping record,” one of the doctors remarks. “We should call Guinness.”
While Osbourne sleeps, the world drinks coffee. Maybe a little more than it should.
After sleeping every hour of the previous 421 days, Osbourne awakens in a hospital bed.
His doctors commence with the questions immediately. They’d like to know how a seemingly normal 42 year-old businessman might happen to fall asleep for over a year. They ask, and he answers.
The why of it seems obvious, at least to Osbourne. It starts with a C and has two Fs and two Es. He tells them how much of it he’d been drinking, steadily increasing and possibly dangerous amounts, upwards of 20 cups a day.
“I had to piss all the time,” he adds. “And while we’re on the subject—of coffee, not piss—can someone grab me a cup?” He’s missed his dear beverage.
The doctors exchange nervous glances.
“I’ll take anything. I’ll take Folgers if I have to. Just a big coffee, no sugar, no cream, please and thank you.”
Finally, one of the doctors clears her throat. “Osbourne. I’m afraid that’s going to be impossible.”
The doctor shifts uncomfortably. “Did you ever hear that story a year or so ago, the one about coffee beans going extinct?” She leaves the rest unsaid.
Osbourne feels a little like Juliet awakening only to find dear Romeo already dead. He feels a breeze touch his cheek, and he turns to his right.
He sees an open window.
Kyle A. Massa is a speculative fiction author living in New York (upstate, not the city). His stories have appeared in numerous online magazines, including Allegory, Chantwood, and Dark Fire Fiction. To stay current with Kyle’s work, subscribe to his email newsletter. He promises not to spam you.
© Kyle A. Massa, 2015. All rights reserved. No part of this short story may be duplicated or distributed in any form or by any means without expressed written consent from the author.