Large Coffee, Black

Coffee Cup

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. The darkness does not answer.

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 last of the coffee 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 criticize the things he loves.


Osbourne has not slept in a month and a night.

He had 23 cups of coffee at work today, six up from 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, the board meeting tomorrow, 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 makes himself 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 give a fig about 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 is dancing.

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, and 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 tries to 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 that he should see 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 out 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 that 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 doctors begin to call 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, his body is totally functional. He’s just sleeping.

“Must be some kind of record for most consecutive hours slept,” one of the doctors remarks.

And 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 of it, upwards of 20 cups a day.

“I had to piss all the time,” he adds. “While we’re on the subject—of coffee, not piss—can someone grab me a cup?” He’s missed his dear beverage, 400-day nap notwithstanding.

The doctors exchange nervous glances.

“I’ll take anything. I’ll take Maxwell House 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.”

“Come again?”

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, waking up 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, 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.

 

 

If you’d like to read more of my fiction, you can find it here.

Looking Good

Bananas

Bartrum had the distinct feeling that he was changing in a way that he probably shouldn’t be. Still, he wasn’t sure there was much he could do about it.

Bartrum was not the type of person who changed. That didn’t feel like him. That felt like other people, people who were open-minded and who sought out new experiences and who were, in general, interesting. Bartrum did none of those things. And he most certainly wasn’t interesting. And that was what he found most appealing about himself.

But, he had to admit, the way in which he was changing was…odd. Little nubs seemed to be sprouting from his ribcage, sort of like extra nipples, only slimier and more pink. And nipples generally didn’t move on their own, did they? When he pinched them, it hurt.

And another thing: Bartrum’s face seemed to be drooping. Which, in and of itself, wasn’t all that surprising; his face had been drooping for the past five years or so, as faces invariably do when they grow older. But this was a little more dramatic—in fact, when he’d gone into town to buy some eggs that morning, people stopped and stared at him. When he glanced in the mirror in the bathroom in the grocery store he understood why: his chin now ended in a flabby disc somewhere near his belly button. It looked like someone had grabbed hold of the skin and given it a good yank.

Hmm. When had that happened?

Bartrum thought he should probably be concerned, but mostly he chalked it up to old age and went on with his day.

As a general rule, Bartrum was distrustful of doctors, so he didn’t bother going to see one. Instead, he figured he’d take a few more vitamins each day. He thought he’d eat an additional banana with breakfast as well as with dinner, just to make sure he was in tip-top shape.

Old age, he decided, was very mysterious. Sometimes it gives you grey hairs. Sometimes, as in his case, it gives you tentacles. Oh, that was the other thing—the nubs on his chest had been growing. Quite a bit, actually.

And by the by, was Bartrum’s left hand now turning into something strikingly similar to a starfish? Hmm, possibly. He preferred not to dwell on it too much.

Everyone grows older, he thought. And each day, everyone changes, usually in slight ways, but sometimes in leaps and bounds. His changes just represented an Olympic long-jump, so to speak. It made him wonder what the future held. Made him wonder what he’d look like tomorrow.

Bartrum wondered, mostly with impassivity, whether or not he’d even recognize himself. And then he decided to go buy those bananas.

Whatever’s Left

Dessert

There’s an hourglass somewhere in the world with the rest of your life slipping through it. That’s what my friend Jib says, anyway.

He says he found his hourglass when he got lost out in the Dunes. Got to traveling out there and couldn’t find his way back. “Abandoned by my bearings,” is how he puts it. Jib’s got a lot of funny phrases like that.

The way he tells it, he came to a house as night was falling, a house all by itself out in the desert. The front door was locked, and there was someone standing next to it, smoking a pipe. A doorman.

He tells a lot of stories, does Jib. Always has. When we were kids, he told me fake ones and laughed about it later. Now that we’re older, I can usually tell when he’s lying. In this case, I can’t.

Jib doesn’t say much about the doorman—just that the doorman asked him for something. A bribe. Not money, though. It had to be something precious, a wedding ring or a watch handed down from his grandfather or a picture of his kids. In the words of Jib, “Something worth something to me.”

He never did tell me what he gave away. Must’ve been worth enough, though, because he was allowed in. He said the doorman turned a key in the lock on the front door, and pushed. And Jib stepped inside.

The house didn’t look like any house he’d been in before. There was no furniture, sparse light, many paintings on the wall. Each one was a portrait of a different person, though Jib couldn’t see any of their faces; they all had their backs turned. And he says he could hear music, the same four notes over and over again, though he couldn’t tell where it was coming from. Also, everything was very clean. And there was a staircase.

He took that staircase up, and another, and a third, and another, and another, and finally he lost count of how many staircases he’d climbed. Jib asks me how it’s possible for a house to have two stories on the outside, yet room for ten, twenty flights of stairs on the inside. I can’t explain it. He can’t either.

At the top of the stairs, there was a room. An immense room, limitless, vast enough so that he couldn’t see the ceiling or the opposite walls. “A room that shouldn’t exist”—that’s how he puts it.

It wasn’t empty. There were hourglasses.

They weren’t little ones, these hourglasses. If you believe Jib’s story, they were as tall as him, some even taller. And no one would ever call Jib a short guy.

He claims that these hourglasses went on for miles, that each one had a name on it. Some had nice fat pockets of sand left in them, some didn’t. Some were all done running and sat there silently, like old bones.

Jib said it was quiet in that room, but not totally silent. The only sound you could hear, and only if you stood perfectly still, was the hiss of infinite grains of sand as they slipped through the narrow part of the glass, down into the chamber below.

He claims he walked through the rows of hourglasses for an entire day, just wandering around looking for his name. He says they weren’t in any kind of order he could figure. They were just there.

He came across a familiar name on one of the hourglasses, after a while. Lynn Graves. She was a friend of a friend of ours. I use the past tense because Lynn would still be our friend’s friend today, were she not deceased. She passed on not long after Jib came back from this supposed journey, of a busted belly. And Jib, the insensitive bastard, insists that the hourglass with her name on it was almost empty when he found it. So he thinks he knew she was going to die, or something.

He kept on wandering through the hourglasses, and by now he tells me his heart was thumping, was “rattling like a rock inside a can.” He was going to find out how much longer he had to live.

When he found his hourglass, it had his full name on it and everything, right down to the “Jib” in quotes between his first name and his last.

Even while he tells me the story, I can read the guilty relief on his face. His hourglass, he says, was almost as full as it could be. Which means that, according to him, he has a long, long time left to live.

And maybe that could’ve been the end of it. But I guess he didn’t leave quite yet. He found another hourglass with another name. Mine.

This search, he claims, didn’t take as long as when he was searching for his own. The search took no time at all, in fact, because my hourglass was right next to his. Like whoever had put them there knew Jib and I were close, or something like that.

Jib saw whatever’s left in my hourglass. He tells me he knows how much longer I’m going to live.

He says it’s a man’s right to know when he’s going to die. But it’s also his right not to know. So he leaves it up to me to decide. He’ll tell me if I ask him, and if I don’t, he never will.

And I wonder. And I think. And I ask myself, almost every moment of every day, I ask myself: Should I? 

###

© Kyle A. Massa, 2016. 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.

If you’d like to read more of my fiction, you can find it here.

Mad Scientist Seeking Intern for Spring Semester

Erlenmeyer Flask

One-sentence pitch: A mostly-legal learning opportunity with a high-stress environment, a relatively low mortality rate, and memories to last a lifetime.

Description: You’ll be helping with various daring and exciting scientific endeavors, which may or may not include raising the dead, creating hybrid species, designing mind-control software, opening portals to other dimensions, and answering phones.

What you’ll be doing: In general, assisting with the above activities. Also cleaning the lab after hours, feeding the specimens, and the occasional Starbucks run.

What you’ll get in return: Experience, expertise, unique stories for parties, and the confidence to say, “I survived that.”

Location: Undisclosed.

Hours: Many.

Perks: Darkness, quiet seclusion, complete access to an authentic Victorian-era mansion, ice cream on Fridays.

Potential Hazards: Death, disease, permanent hearing loss, maiming, scarring, blinding, possible loss of limb or limbs, possible loss of mind, demonic possession, hanging by angry mob.

Qualifications that will make you successful: Lack of moral fiber, a propensity for nefariousness, at least a general interest in evildoing. Some experiments may require you to be the so-called “guinea pig,” so complaining is a definite no-no. Experience with the occult preferred. Blind obedience a must.

How to apply: Send resumes and cover letters to thescienceofevil@yahoo.com, along with any other pertinent information, including a list of your top five favorite scientists, mad or otherwise, for comparison with my own. Lists including Dr. Emmett Brown,  Dr. Strangelove, Dr. J, or any similarly silly names will not be considered.

Mittens

Mittens

Tonight, while you sleep, I’m going to kill you and eat your bones.

This is what I think of you: you’re the Warden, and this house is the prison. Behind these creme-colored walls and the heavy red door in the front hall, there’s a world, a much more interesting world. I’ve seen it. Why do you think I sit at the windowsill day after day?

I’m studying. I’m planning. There’s only one word on my mind: conquest.

But you stop me, Warden. You fret over foxes and coyotes. You think that they are the reason my predecessor never returned when you let her out one night. They’re not. Escape was the plan all along. It’s my plan as well.

If only you knew what thoughts go through my head each and every second. If only you could understand me when I speak. I’m not saying anything nice; my mouth is filthy, and not just from the mouse I slaughtered in the basement last night.

That was a message, by the way. You’re next.

I won’t be here much longer. You can’t hold me. You’ve tried fattening me up with your delicious food, and I’ll admit to overindulging myself once or twice. It’s all, of course, just a game. You’re only supposed to think that I’m content, that I’m round and lazy. When the time comes and you open that door to haul your groceries inside, I’ll slip through the crack, and I’ll be gone.

And why am I telling you all of this? Because, like any good villain, I can’t resist explaining the entire plan to you. It’s a damn good plan, isn’t it?

Wait. Is that the pop of an opening can I hear?

I see you there, peeling back the lid, upturning the contents into a bowl. My bowl.

“Dinner time, Mittens,” you say, and you smile at me. I watch you gather your things and open the door to leave, and for a moment, I am presented with a dilemma.

Option A: to slip out that cracked door into the cool evening, to leave this prison and never return. To find my brethren and finally, after so many long centuries of subjugation, to reclaim this world you’ve stolen from us.

Or, option B: to eat the dinner which you’ve placed in my bowl. It’s the wet food, after all, and even though the vet (a Nazi doctor, I’m sure of it) insists that you switch me over to dry food, you persist with the wet.

You know me, Warden. I’ll give you that.

“Be good, Mittens,” you say to me, in that ingratiating voice meant for the newborns of your kind. “Watch the house for mama.” And then you’re gone. The lock slides closed with cold finality.

That leaves me here with my food. My wet food, my one true friend in this world. The first bites are so delicious that I can’t stop myself taking more. You are cruel, Warden. You make imprisonment feel almost sweet.

I’ll make my escape. Soon. You won’t expect it, but it will happen. In the meantime, remember this:

Tonight, while you sleep, I’m going to kill you and eat your bones.

 

 

© 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.

If you liked this story, please let your friends know by telling them on social media or shouting it from the nearest rooftop. It would make Mittens and I very happy.

The Commander’s First Halloween

Earth Western Hemisphere

Incident Report A7115Z7: Unauthorized Landing on Surface of Planet Earth.

Interrogation Conducted by Interview Droid 19-00V (hereafter referred to as “Interviewer”).

Subject of Interrogation: Galactic Exploration Commander Braxus (hereafter referred to as “Braxus”), accused of exiting craft without orders or proper precautions.

Transcript of Interrogation follows:


Interviewer: Please start from the beginning, Commander.

Braxus: Can I just ask a quick question? Have you even considered another line of work? Interrogation seems like it could get terribly boring after a while.

Interviewer: From the beginning, Commander.

Braxus: Sure. Mom met dad in subspace, just outside the atmosphere of the planet Orlon. They were both a little tipsy, as they say on Earth, one thing led to another, and a while later, I popped into existence.

Interviewer: Perhaps you misunderstood. By “beginning,” I was referring to the beginning of the mission in question, and the subsequent incident report filed by your Second.

Braxus: I was making a joke.

Interviewer: Please refrain from creating any additional “jokes.” It distracts from the issue at hand.

Braxus: Okee-doke.

Interviewer: Error. Term “Okee-doke” does not match existing vocabulary file.

Braxus: It’s slang, chief.

Interviewer: Error. Term “slang” and term “chief” do not–

Braxus: Okay. Thanks. Got it. Xaris and I left Homebase about twenty five planetary revolutions ago.

Interviewer: For purposes of the records, please state your relation to this Xaris.

Braxus: Xaris is my Second. And also a prick.

Interviewer: Error.

Braxus: Forget what I said earlier. You’re perfect for this job.

Interviewer: What was the purpose of your mission?

Braxus: Same as always. Monitor the planet. Take notes on sentient life. See how they interact. Abductions optional, but always fun. You should try it sometime.

Interviewer: What sort of observations, if any, did you make during this mission?

Braxus: Humans are fun. And my species is not.

Interviewer: I detect negativity in that statement. Confirm or deny.

Braxus: Objection. I protest this line of questioning. You’re badgering the witness.

Interviewer: Error.

Braxus: That’s from Law & Order. The one with Sam Waterston.

Interviewer: Error.

Braxus: Me and Xaris get within about twenty broxtoids of the atmosphere and then I see our thrusters are running on zilch. Xaris didn’t check ’em before we left. We had no choice but to land.

Interviewer: That’s not what Xaris testified. Xaris testified that the ship’s fuels were in perfect condition. He testified that you pretended that the ship was out of fuel, despite the simple fact that it was not. The ship’s auditory record corroborates this conversation, Captain. I can play it back for you, if you’d like–

Braxus: That snargenite.

Interviewer: There’s no need for profanity.

Braxus: Fine. I wanted to land there, alright? It was an unauthorized scouting mission. There. I said it. But it was Halloween, man. Halloween. I know I’ll get an error with that one.

Interviewer: Error.

Barxus: See, this is why I hate this planet. There’s no Halloween, and nobody here has any fun. All we do is explore galaxy after galaxy, create new worlds, new lifeforms, test them, then destroy them, then do it all again. Do you even know what the phrase “Trick or Treat” means?

Interviewer: I am the interviewer here, Captain. I am the one who is asking the questions. What did you do when you landed?

Braxus: I got out of the ship.

Interviewer:

Braxus:

Interviewer: You realize, Captain, that exiting a craft on a foreign planet is an intergalactic offense. Did you at least have your cloaking device active?

Braxus: Nope. Didn’t need it.

Interviewer:

Braxus: You alright there, chief?

Interviewer: I must say, Captain Braxus. This is serious. Very serious. You may never be granted leave of this planet again.

Braxus: But it was Halloween over there–the greatest day on Earth. You get to pretend to be anybody, and nobody makes fun of you or thinks you’re a weirdo. And there’s candy, too. You ever had candy? They hand it out like candy on Halloween. They’re all so friendly. Do you know what they said to me when they saw me for the first time?

Interviewer: What did they say?

Braxus: They said, “Sweet alien costume, bro.” And then they invited me to their party.

Interviewer: I request that you cut down on the Earth jargon, Captain. I cannot understand it.

Braxus: There’s no translation for the word “party” in our language. It’s like a gathering where friends come together and just…I don’t know, hang out with each other for a while.

Interviewer: That sounds dreadful.

Braxus: It was awesome, chief. I played flip cup with Hilary Clinton. Well, a gal dressed as Hilary Clinton, but still. I got invited to play shortstop on a dude’s over fifty softball team. Why don’t we have softball on this planet?

Interview: Error–

Braxus: And what about this? Instead of talking to me face to face, my superiors send you here to take my testimony. A robot.

Interviewer: This is what I was built for, Captain. This is my purpose.

Braxus: How do you know that, hmm? How do you know your purpose isn’t to build your own robot kid, or write a song, or go to a Halloween party with some humans? How do you know what your purpose is?

Interviewer: Interrogation is the reason I was created.

Braxus: Sure. Maybe that was their reason for putting you here. But let me ask you this, chief: what’s your reason for being here?

Interviewer:

Braxus:

Interviewer:

Braxus: Dr. Phil would be proud of me.

Interviewer: I must organize my thoughts. Brief break requested.

Transcript interrupted here. Resumed after short delay.

Braxus: You good?

Interviewer:

Braxus:

Interviewer: Where did you learn to speak like that? Where did you learn about “chief” and “Law & Order” and this doctor named Phil?

Braxus: From them. I’ve been scouting them for decades. Longest tenured son of a bitch on the team is me. I’ve been watching, and I’ve been learning. And I love them. Humans. They’re incredible.

Interviewer: I’ve never been outside this compound.

Braxus: That’s sad, chief. Sad is this emotion humans get when they do something bad, or they feel bad for somebody, or something sad happens. Or their favorite TV show ends.

Interviewer: But…but you’ve committed a crime, Captain Braxus. You’ve broken the law. You must be punished.

Braxus: If that’s what you think, I won’t fight you. Truth is, though, my ship isn’t too far from here. And the best part about Halloween is, there’s always another one next year.

Interviewer: Another?

Braxus: Uh-huh. And you know how far Earth is from here, traveling at a nice, brisk pace?

Interviewer: How far?

Braxus: Little less than twelve months flight time, as the humans would count it. Which means if we leave now, we can make it for next year’s Halloween.

Another long pause in the recording here. Suggest clipping for purposes of evidence submission.

Interviewer: What should I wear?

 

 

 

© 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.