Bethany Hamilton, face buried in her smartphone, might have missed the place completely if Mayra hadn’t spotted her and tapped on the window. She had been sitting lookout because the café was a small and easy to miss, nestled in a nook that was hidden away in the downtown side street. It hadn’t changed much since she had last been here, the chairs and tables were arranged differently but the rescued furniture, now fit for retirement, and the stained and color-faded, peeling wallpaper were the same. In an age where designer coffee beverages were all the rage, it was one of the few places you might be able to get a café au lait but the chances of that were only slightly better than winning the state lottery.
The only other customers were three elderly people, two women and a man, who sat at separate tables with their coffee and bagels but were engaged in conversation with one another.
The shopkeepers bell, a small brass bell mounted on the door by a hooked spring steel bracket, chimed when Bethany stepped inside with a Starbucks Iced Salted Caramel Mocha in hand.
“I was just about to call you,” Bethany said as she kissed Mayra’s cheek and sat in the booth across from her.
The waitress brought a chocolate egg cream and placed it on a napkin square, laying a wrapped straw beside it. She looked at Bethany, “Get you anything?”
“A menu,” Bethany answered to which the server merely pointed to the menu slotted in the metal condiment holder on the table. Bethany gave an embarrassed little shrug, thanked her and the woman went away.
“How’d you ever find this place? It’s so middle of nowhere in the heart of everything.”
“My mom worked here, she used to bring me when I was little,” Mayra said listlessly. She pointed to a stool at the counter over Bethany’s shoulder. “I’d sit at right over there and sip the best chocolate egg cream in the world and read comic books while she served tables. I just need to be in a familiar place right now, with familiar people.”
Mayra stared through the egg cream.
“What’s wrong, Mayra?”
“This is about that Heaven thing, isn’t it?” Bethany whispered the word Heaven and Mayra thought, What an odd thing to do. “Honey, you have to get past this.”
“How do you past the obliteration of Heaven?”
“What? No, I meant, you know, passed the crazy thoughts.”
Mayra puzzled over this a moment before Bethany’s meaning dawned. “You think I’m going to commit suicide?”
“I…well, you know, look at you. You’re a fragile wreck. And there is this epidemic going around.”
“Epidemic,” Mayra said to herself. She shook her head to dislodge the memory of the news reports. “You’ve got the wrong end of the stick, Beth. Taking my life? I-I just don’t have that in me.”
“I didn’t really think so, but just in case, you know? Erring on the side of caution and all that.”
“How are you dealing with it?”
Bethany sipped her drink and answered, “Optimism or denial, maybe. I’d like to think that nothing more is going to happen. That somehow we all suffered some freakish mass hallucination.”
“It’s been over a week and the anxiousness hasn’t subsided. I’m constantly on edge like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
“What other shoe could there be?”
“It seems like everyone else is thinking something has happened, right? But what if it’s actually something is happening? What if the Heaven thing, as you call it, is just the precursor for something bigger?”
“Bigger like…” Bethany stopped in midsentence, her eyes sliding off Mayra to look out the café window. “Holy shit. I think I found your other shoe.”
“My other shoe?” Mayra said, puzzled and traced her friend’s eyeline and saw…well, she couldn’t rightly say what she saw at first. Her first impression was pastel shapes moving along the sidewalk but as comprehension focused in her mind she saw that the shapes were actually people that were somehow wrong. These people were translucent like faded photographs, no, more like images viewed through celluloid held against a light. She wiped at her eyes with the heel of her palms and looked again. If what she was looking at was really there she knew there was only one name for what she saw: spirits. Spirits of the dead. This was exactly what she was expecting, the very proof the world needed to get off its collective backside and do something, but she found now that it was here, all she wanted was for it to go away.
She wrenched her attention back to Bethany to run a few of the theories flooding her mind but over her friend’s shoulder she spotted a spirit walking through the café door dressed in a waitress uniform in the same style as their server. This outfit was dated, something she hadn’t seen since…
Mayra rose from the table and moved tentatively toward the spirit whose back was to her. Bethany called after Mayra trying to stop her from making contact with the spirit. This was uncharted territory for her and she wanted to protect her friend in case the unthinkable happened. But she need not have worried for Mayra stopped at arm’s length from the spirit. The faded figure turned around as if sensing something and Mayra saw something in its features, the sad way its eyes slightly drooped at the outside corners, the way its mouth curled into a kind smile. She bit down on her lip and her voice quivered as she said, “Mom?”
To Be Continued…
©2017-2020 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys