Day Four of Luna Station Quarterly's writing challenges for the month of October. Calling all genre writers! Today's is a good one.
Worst Coffee in Detroit said the handwritten sign next to the door. I pushed in anyway. "Worst" probably meant strong, and I could use strong. Huddled in my coat, I took a seat at the counter, the cracked red plastic seat swiveling under me. There was one short-order cook at the grill, which looked cold and clean. I could smell the burned coffee, though. See the steam coming from the two half-empty pots. I smiled.
"Coffee," I said to the guy. He raised his eyebrows but said nothing, got me a white mug with a chip on the handle and poured the coffee to the brim.
"No milk," he said.
"Sugar?" I asked. He reached under the counter and came up with a handful of packets, yellow, white and pink. I took six white and dumped them all in.
I thought about asking for a menu, but that might be too much trouble. And I'd just got myself extricated from a whole lot of trouble. Perhaps it was better to do things smooth and easy, for the time being. I searched for the pie case, found it. Empty. Turned my head over my shoulder. The neon sign still blinked: All Nite Diner 24rs.
The door opened, bringing with it a rush of December and five girls. Short coats, shorter skirts. I looked at my watch. It was after 3. Must be from the club next door. They laughed, settled into a booth with a jingle and shush of costumes, a whiff of florid perfume. Then they quieted. I looked at them. They were looking back at me.
"Sure." I put my cup out, but he shook his head.
"You wait. I'll make you the best damned cup of coffee you ever had."
I watched him dump one of the pots, scrub it out and rinse. He spooned coffee into the filter; I couldn't see the brand. In minutes, the smell of fresh, good coffee filled the diner. I accepted it gleefully; I'd needed the caffeine, after three days on the run, but to have something that was more than just an energy jolt, more than just something to keep me on my feet, something that felt smooth and delicious in my mouth... I closed my eyes, inhaled more of the scent, and took another sip.
When I opened my eyes, the cook was gone.
"You like the coffee, huh?" It was one of the girls, leaning on the counter beside me. In the harsh diner light, she looked horrible. Make-up caked on, eyes bloodshot, hair crisped and full of dandruff. "Harry makes the best coffee in Detroit. Sometimes. But only for some people."
"Yeah. Nice guy," I mumbled, wishing she'd step back. Her perfume, up close, was vigorously rancid. I silently congratulated myself on being one of those guys who has never set foot in a strip joint, ever. Those other guys, they were throwing their money away on... this. She kind of turned my stomach.
"Nice guy," she repeated, and laughed. They all laughed. They'd got up, clacking about on high heels. "Yeah, he's a real nice guy."
A click. I turned -- one of them had locked the door. I began to stand. The lights went off, leaving only the blinking red neon. Then that went off too.
Outside, I could just see a flurry of snow begin to fall. Inside, the smell of coffee was gone. All I could smell was their perfume. And as they got closer, their breath. It smelled like grease and garbage, like the dumpster behind an all-night diner. Their teeth, for one moment, shone in the dark.
I dropped my mug.
Thanks again for reading! Everything's better with zombies. Especially stripper zombies. Hey, everyone's gotta work.