Flash Fiction · Stories

The Ghost in the Coffee Machine

[Total: 4    Average: 4.5/5]
Artwork by Jon Smith

Written by S. A. McKenzie

My thumbs started prickling the minute I stepped into the cinnamon and coffee-scented warmth of the Holy Bean. It wasn’t hard to spot what had set my psychic radar off. The dead guy was standing by the cash register, his back to me. It looked like he was trying to order coffee, but like most ghosts he couldn’t speak. He flung his arms out in an exasperated gesture, and began pacing back and forth in front of the counter. Gray suit, dark hair, tinted red, then yellow as the light from the stain-glass windows caught him.

I tried to suppress a rising excitement. This could be my chance to show Mack I was ready to handle a case on my own. I pictured the look on his face when I handed him his coffee, and oh-so-casually dropped a bottled spook on his lap. Maybe he’d stop calling me Rookie. I started going through an equipment check, patting each item on my harness. Everything was there. I unclipped the force-net from the back of my harness, flipped the lid open on the containment jar at my belt, and made sure my Department for Regulation of Changeling Activity badge was clearly visible. I’d never caught a ghost in the wild before. I’d only practiced the ghost-canning process on DROCA’s resident spook Harriet, a former employee who was obliging about letting clumsy trainees put her in a cannister, so long as we let her out again promptly.

The customers at the pick-up counter were keeping their distance from the dead guy. Since the Change thirty years ago, most people have some form of psychic ability. Even people who can’t see ghosts seem to sense enough on a subconscious level to stop them walking straight through a phantom, which is lucky for them, because ghosts really hate it when people walk through them like they’re not there. Trust me, you do not want an angry ghost messing with your lungs.

The dead guy was getting frustrated at his inability to order a coffee. The coffee cups on the rack above the coffee machine began to rattle like a train was passing by. The bell over the door rang irregularly. I could see the top of a mop of curly brown hair moving behind the coffee machine, and hear the gurgling of the milk steamer.

I moved quietly up behind the ghost, and flicked my force-net open. The barista looked up and saw me. His eyes widened as he took in my uniform, and he shook his head at me firmly. I stopped, puzzled. Did he want his shop wrecked? Above us, the pendant lights were swaying in a non-existent breeze. The room was getting colder by the minute. The barista grabbed a cream cannister and squirted an untidy topping onto a large green mug decorated with the Holy Bean’s logo of a silhouetted monk praying over a mound of coffee beans.

He hurried to the pickup counter and slapped down the mug, coffee slopping over the sides.

“Double shot mocha with cream for Roger,” he said loudly. The dead guy drifted to the pickup area and hovered over the mug as if inhaling the aroma of the coffee. Then, to my surprise, he vanished, leaving behind an empty mug covered in frost.

The barista smiled at me. A girl in the store uniform came hurrying out of the back room, and took up her station behind the cash register.

“Now, what can I get you?” she said. I put my force-net back on my harness and gave her our order.

“So, Zach, does this happen often?” I asked the barista, reading his name tag.

“Every Tuesday at 8.20 a.m.,” he said cheerfully, putting more coffees on the pick-up counter, and removing the ghost’s mug.

“You know DROCA could take care of that for you, don’t you? You get your coffee machine contaminated by ectoplasm, insurance won’t cover it.”

He shook his head, smiling. “Roger was a regular here. It wouldn’t be right to have the Spook Squad haul one of our best customers away just because he happens to be dead.”

He put my drinks in a tray and nudged it over.

“Say hi to Mack for me,” he said.

“Yeah, I’ll do that,” I said, picking up the drinks. Inside, I was fuming. Every Tuesday morning, huh? Mack had set me up. This was yet another one of his training exercises.

Back at the squad car Mack was listening to the radio, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel. I handed him the coffee and he took an appreciative sip.

“You’re lucky it’s not full of green slime,” I groused as I got into the passenger seat.

Mack smirked at me. “How is Roger?”

“Kinda bitchy.”

“Yeah, being dead will do that.”

A thought struck me. “Zach said he was a regular, but now he only shows up on Tuesdays.”

Mack pulled out into the traffic, heading for the DROCA headquarters down on 3rd Avenue.

“He’d stop by the Holy Bean every morning before work, and read the paper while he drank his coffee. He got hit by a car two blocks from here about three months ago. Died at the scene, and never got his coffee that day.”

“Let me guess—it was a Tuesday morning?”

“Yup.”

“That’s sad.” I looked out the window, feeling my cheeks heat up. I’d been so desperate to prove myself, I hadn’t been thinking of the dead guy as someone who had once been alive, someone who’d liked coffee and had a routine. He’d been snuffed out in an instance, and I’d been ready to rush in and do that to him all over again. I’d never really wondered about Harriet either; she just seemed like part of the furniture at HQ. I’d never thought about whether there was anything we could do for her.

“Mack,” I said, as we stopped for a red light. “Do you know how Harriet used to take her coffee?”

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Little Monster

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