(Isles of Scion) – SotS: The Cafe
Had a pretty rough couple of forevers. Decided to write a short story. No proofing or whatever. Just a one and done, but I may come back and clean this up for later. Enjoy.
In the distance the sun was just reaching the last moments of its daily journey. Night had unravelled in the sky above revealing every twinkling blemish of its nude form. Most people walking through the thin jagged streets of Sonomed gave the sky nary a glance. For them the infinite expanse of eternity was not nearly as pressing as their day to day lives. Work, play, socializing. The world as a whole didn’t seem to factor into who they were. Very few looked up, even on a clear day, and you’d be hard pressed to find a single stargazer in the city. This evening was different in that last regard.
A man sipped on his coffee. In between each one he sighed deeply. Glancing up to the stars as if waiting. Though the city was a morass of noise he heard not a bit of it. For him there was nothing but deafening silence. He reached the bottom of his pitch black brew to reveal the ivory cup beneath. A thin film of coffee reflected his face across its surface. Aged and grey, the creases around his mouth painting a tale about far too many years and far too little happiness. A server walked up to him with a carafe in hand. “Sir, would you like some more.”
He did not respond. Nobody else sat at the Cafe at this time. They weren’t the most popular establishment in the district much less the city as a whole. But every night, like clockwork, the old man returned there. Each day he seemed a little more distant than the day prior. Something weighed on him greatly. It concerned the young man. They had spoken little, if ever, but routine breeds familiarity. It was impossible to not care. He refilled the old man’s cup without confirmation, the rising steam and washing out of his reflection ripped him from his stupor. He squinted and looked up at the young man.
“Thank you.” He said. He then leaned back and glanced down the fold of his jacket. A flicker of light reflected out and he nodded to himself.
“Sir?” The young man said.
“Yes?” The old man replied. “What troubles you?”
The young man looked around. His manager was nowhere in sight. “May I?” He asked, gesturing to the seat opposite the small cafe table. The old man nodded. The young man set the carafe down on the wrought iron table. The metal base of the carafe resonating against the flower petal design. The young man straightened his uniform and licked his lips.
“You.” The young man replied. He twitched a bit, uncomfortable with the directness of his own words.
“Me?” The old man’s brows raised. “Why worry yourself over an old man? Do I not tip well?”
The young man swatted at the air. “No, no. You are most generous, sir.” He smiled. “But how does a man so generous look impoverished? Why even?”
The old man let out a pronounced “Ah.” and adjusted the napkin on his lap. He looked around, catching a glimpse at the stars once again. He spoke without looking back at the young man. “Misery is a flower that blooms brilliantly within my lofty loam.” He laughed softly. “It sounds just as stupid spoken allowed as it did in my head. I’ve been saying it over and over lately. This hollow feeling that doesn’t eat at me.”
The old man looked at the young man. “It doesn’t have teeth to gnaw. It’s a darkness, everything that enters it merely ceases to be. I feel the pull growing ever greater.” He shrugged slightly. “I suppose that is the way of things. You hope for the best. There was a time when I’d meet every little stumble with a smile. Maybe even laugh.” He closed his eyes and sighed. “Those times are gone now.”
The young man frowned. “I admit I do not know you. Not directly. But you’ve never been anything but kind to me. You do not deserve to feel this way.”
The old man smiled. “I assure you I do.”
“Respectfully I can’t believe it, sir.” The young man replied. His nose twitched, a cold film formed on his palms. “We need more people like you in the world.” He added.
“Do you truly think that?” The old man replied.
The manager walked up to the table. “Is he bothering you?” The old man waved him away. “To the contrary, it is good to know that someone cares.”
The manager bowed slightly and turned to the young man. “Be sure to care a little bit faster. We have dishes to wash.” He mumbled under his breath. The young man nodded and the manager walked back into the Cafe.
“Sonomed can be a scary place.” The young man said nervously. “Have you heard about the Songbird murders?”
The old man nodded. “I have. A terrible thing.”
The young man nodded. “It is! How terrible to take the life of children. Innocents through and through.”
“Yes. I’ve asked myself lately if there is any justification for it.” The old man took a deep sip of his coffee. “The longer it happens the less I can rationalize it.”
“Nothing rational about it sir. Terrible. Makes me scared, you know. What happens if this person-” The young man corrected himself. “No, this monster, runs out of children? What if they begin to target the rest of us?”
“I don’t see that happening.” The old man replied. “These are calculated killings. There is some meaning to them. There must be, don’t you think?”
The young man shook his head. “I don’t. Nothing meaningful about murder. It’s a coward’s problem solving tool.”
“Wise words. Your youth betrays you.” Another flicker glowed beneath the old man’s stubbly chin. He nodded to nothing in particular and let out another deep sigh. “What’s your name?” The old man asked.
“Bass.” The young man replied.
The old man stood and reached into his jacket. He pulled from it a heavy leather pouch. The old man placed the pouch gently beside the carafe. The sound of clattering currency echoed from behind the sheath.
“I’m sorry we didn’t get to know one another better, Bass.” The old man said.
The young man opened the bag to find a fortune worth of gold resting within. “Sir this, this is too much.”
“It’s yours, you’ll do well with it I’m sure.” He picked up the coffee and finished it off. “Least I can do. I don’t think we’ll be seeing one another again.”
The young man closed the pouch and stood quickly, nearly toppling the table. He lifted the bag, with a bit of difficulty, and held it towards the old man. “This is too much!”
“Please don’t offend me.” The old man said. “I’ve given you this and I would ask that you take care of yourself. The world needs more people like you.”
The young man looked back at the Cafe.
“He’ll be fine.” The old man said. “But we both know you’ll be giving him some of that, won’t you?”
The young man nodded.
“Don’t make a habit of that. Or someday you’ll find yourself giving more than you can come to terms with.” The old man pat the young man on the shoulder. “I’d hate to know that this was all for nothing.”
The old man drew a shimmering blade from his vest and held it to his side. “Goodbye, Bass.” He glanced back to the stars.
The air shook brilliantly leaving the young man with double vision so great that he may as well have been blind. The two worlds vibrated violently before him. Then like a plucked tuning fork they slowly merged back into one. The young man found himself clutching the bag of gold, alone, in the cafe courtyard. He looked up and down the winding streets. Even this late at night the roads were packed with people.
Something told him the old man hadn’t walked away.
He held the purse out in his hands and the top opened slightly. The shimmering coins were each polished to perfection. In their glint he could see the whole of the stars above him. He looked up to them and let them flow into his eyes for the very first time.