Kaffe and Cake

The crowds on the Rue de l’artisanat moved with a purposeful grace. To anyone on the street, it seemed chaotic, an endless series of near collisions with a generous portion of shouting. However, if you watched it from above, it resembled a dance, each individual taking part an intricate choreography. A ginger tabby observed it all from a window, taking note of all that went on.

Each shop displayed their wares, inside-out bottles, cloth woven from a child’s dream (the best night’s sleep, guaranteed!), glamour in creams, powders and sprays, in short, anything you might need or want could be found, including chronotons, though none as fine as those made by Monsieur L’Horloge.

Zsófia weaved through the throngs, with ease, she grew up on a street much like this one and she fell into the rhythms without a thought. While her own address was of a more elegant nature, it is impossible to forget where you came from. Unless you procured the services of an Oublier Maître, but that was only the truly desperate.

She arrived at Frau Schlüsselherrin’s shop, it’s windows filled with keys of every description. From heavy iron ones that looked as though they could be used to lock up a dungeon door, to slim silver keys, topped with filigree and enamel that resembled a cathedral’s stained glass. They were made of brass, copper, wood, glass, even a few made of carved bone and a lone key of ice, mist rose off it and the case was rimmed with frost. Zsófia entered and the ginger tabby twitched his whiskers.

Opening the door caused the keys hanging from the ceiling to sway and strike each other with a serene sound. Zsófia moved up to the counter and rang the bell. There was a pause, then a series of clicks, clacks and thunks and behind the counter a low door opened. Frau Schlüsselherrin emerged, dressed in canvas coveralls over which she wore a leather apron stained with grease, cinched with a thick belt that held a panoply of tool, her short hair so pale that it was impossible to know her age.

“Zsófia! What brings to my shop? Are the shadows misbehaving?”

“They remain as tenebrous as ever.”

“I’m happy to hear that. So what brings you to my shop?”

Zsófia shrugged and said, “Purely social, it seems like ages since we had a visit.”

“Come in the back and I’ll make some kaffee and we’ll catch up.”

The back room functioned as workshop, office and living space. While Frau Schlüsselherrin could certainly afford to live in more a luxurious manner, she was not fond of entertaining and the room seconded that position. Those few she called friends were the sort who did not judge how she lived. As a result, her circle of friends was rather small but insured that they were indeed her friends.

Two mismatched arm chairs, one with a fractal pattern and the other carved from a rich amber sat on either side of a jagged slab of dark metal that served as a coffee table. Zsófia took the heavy ceramic mug and inhaled the aroma of the kaffee as Frau Schlüsselherrin placed a cardboard box of sweets between them.

“So, you seem to be doing well.”

“Business is well, people do have a bad habit of losing their keys,” remarked Frau Schlüsselherrin, “Though I won’t complain.”

“These pâtisseries are wonderful, where did you get them?”

“Aren’t they though? There’s a new place that opened up two blocks over, they have a clockwork chef.”

“Really? I’ve always found clockwork cooking to be, well, adequate at best.”

“Until now I’d agree with you. But this one is gifted.”

“Remarkable!” she said, taking another bite.

“I heard a rumor that this one has a soul,” said Frau Schlüsselherrin with a smile.

“Ridiculous? Professor Ichikawa proclaimed it was impossible!”

The key maker smiled.

“You’re just teasing me.”

“I’m no theological engineer, but it’s just a rumor I’ve heard.”

Each of them ate the delicious confections in companionable silence for a while. Zsófia looked at the box, which was printed “Transcendent bites, 1/8th Rue de rêve” in a vivid purple script. She made a psychic note to visit them very soon. As pleasant as kaffee and sweets were, Zsófia knew she must make her plea.

“I had drinks with Monsieur L’Horloge the other night,” she said as casually as she could, which incidentally was extremely so.

“It is your time to waste,” said her friend.

“You know how I feel about him,” said Zsófia.

“Yah, yah.”

“In fact, your name came up.”

“Did he have more snide remarks?”

“No, in fact, he desires to consult with you.”

“Do not mock me!” spat Frau Schlüsselherrin, who stood suddenly, causing her own mug to spill on the table.

“Have I ever derided you? Played petty tricks?”

“Nein,” she said and sat once more.

“Please understand that it pains me to have you two quarrel.”

“I know but-“

“So I have excellent news!”

The key maker fixed her with a cautious gaze.

“What are these glad tidings?”

“As I said, I had drinks with Monsieur L’Horloge. He is confronted with a problem. One that he cannot solve himself.”

“Did he say so, in those exact words?”

There was a gleeful tone to her voice.

“He asked me, pleaded in fact, to speak to you on his behalf.”

“Why not do it himself?”

“Would you even let him enter your store?”

Frau Schlüsselherrin was about to protest but had to concede the point, “That is not, unfair,” she relented.

“I would ask to at least to meet with him, hear what he has to say.”

“You ask much.”

“If you would perhaps, consider it.”

The key maker drank the rest of her kaffee then went to the pot and refilled her cup. Zsófia said nothing but nibbled on the sweets. They were very, very good. Frau Schlüsselherrin stomped back to her chair, sat and stared her friend in the eyes.

“For you, I will.”

“Merci.”

“Were it anyone else-“

“I’m very appreciative.”

“As you should be.”

“And one more wrinkle to ponder. In spite of your feud, you were the only person that the great Monsieur L’Horloge thought of to help him.”

That settled in the room with a surprising amount of comfort.

“Do you mind if I have the last patisserie?” asked Zsófia, “They are impossible to resist!”

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Posted in Short Stories | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Drinks

Pale blue smoke swayed around the ankles and tentacles of the café’s patrons. The ceiling was schmeared with stars that drifted languidly, illuminating parts of the room and leaving other sections in dusk. A chanteuse sang a sad song as her dress of woven leaves turned yellow, orange and red but Monsieur L’Horloge did not listen as he sipped his absinthe.

She was late. That was a quality he normally would not abide, but she was the exception to the rule. Likely she knew that and adjusted her schedule to exploit that. He checked his chronoton. Very little time had passed, he knew that but it was a well-worn habit that he could not shake, even if he wanted to.

“Jó estét drágám,” she said as she slithered into the seat across from Monsieur L’Horloge.

He suppressed the urge to chastise her for tardiness, it wouldn’t make her more likely to be on time in the future and definitely make her cross.

“Bonsoir Zsófia,” he said as he lightly kissed her azure scaled hands.

She smiled with what might be described as an alarming number of teeth.

“Is this not the café where we first met?”

“You know it is,” Monsieur L’Horloge.

“I do love to tease,” she replied, “please don’t be angry.”

“As if I could be angry with you.”

At that she laughed. Upon hearing it, Monsieur L’Horloge tingled, it always sounded to him like a crystal waterfall.

“I do require a cocktail,” remarked Zsófia just as a waiter placed a flute of clear, effervescent liquid in front of her. With a flick of match, the top of the drink burst into flame and was just a swiftly snuffed out by a tarnished silver disk, causing the liquid to cascade into layers of colors that recalled a sunrise.

“You remembered!” said as she clapped her hands in delight.

“It would be impossible not do!”

They raised their glasses and toasted.

“To long memories!”

Both sipped their drinks and made small talk. They both had concerns about cloud pirates disrupting the weather, how fashion was becoming more ephemeral (he was in favor, she against), the latest political scandal of a politician with an imaginary lover, how cats had unionized and the unsubstantiated rumors of Hommes de cuivre. After several beverages, Zsófia looked at Monsieur L’Horloge thoughtfully.

“So why did you really ask me to drinks?” she pondered aloud.

“Do I really need a reason?” he replied but didn’t look her in her eyes.

“You shouldn’t, but you value time so highly, it’s unusual for you to spend it so freely.”

He sighed and said, “It is the one finite currency we have, impossible to refill that account.”

Zsófia ran her talons tenderly through his messy hair. He was so very attractive when he became melancholy but if she let him indulge in that mood, it would be impossible to discover why he really invited her to this tête à tête.

“Drágám, please tell why we’re here, other than enjoying a lovely evening?”

She flicked her narrow tongue in his ear and he both jumped and shuddered, though not unpleasantly. He downed the last of his absinth and leaned in to her.

“We know each other too well. I do have an ulterior motive for asking you to drinks. Do you still know Frau Schlüsselherrin?”

“I do. She and I own a share of a number of popular shadows.“

“Yes, yes, yes, of course. But her other business?”

“Frau Schlüsselherrin is still the premier locksmith in the Arrondissement,” she said, “But you already knew that.”

“Yes, I suppose I did.”

They sat without speaking for a moment. She lapped at her drink as the chanteuse sang a song about joy of longing. Zsófia knew that Monsieur L’Horloge would speak soon, as much as he hated asking for help, he hated wasting time more.

“I need you to, if you would, speak on my behalf to Frau Schlüsselherrin,” he said, his shoulders sagging.

“So your feud continues?” she asked with a smirk.

He gazed at her with a mixture of sadness and disappointment.

“That was unkind,” she said, “Please forgive me.”

“No, I should not have asked this, it is my difficulty, not yours.”

Zsófia took Monsieur L’Horloge’s face tenderly in her claws, always careful, and looked him in his hazel eyes. She told herself, you cannot choose and accepted what would come next.

“I will always aid you if possible,” she said.

“Merci.”

“While I cannot guarantee Frau Schlüsselherrin will meet with you, I will ask her. She may ask a price, and you will decide if it is too dear.”

“You are as always, far too kind,” he said.

“Only to you.”

He leaned in and kissed her, lightly on her mouth, her lips cool and smooth. For a moment, all else faded.

“But I have my price as well, “ she said.
“What is that?”

“That we waste no more of this evening.”

And they did not.

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An Appointment

The cabbie’s head was a swarm of fireflies and it swayed as he turned to the left. His plethora of eyes insured that he never had an accident. Today had started with clear day rich purple skies, but green clouds had been gathering since mid morning and the air smelled like the stone so it would rain before evening.

Clattering, the taxi pulled to the curb. Maxi took three silver Notions from her purse and passed them to the driver.

“Keep the change.”

With an atonal buzz, the taxi moved back to traffic. Maxi smoothed her outfit and looked at the impossibly tall building that ascended steadily from the hole. She checked her chronoton, her floor was almost there.

One, two, three… Hop. She got on perfectly. It was a relief, the stairs could be troublesome, what with the Escher Spiders. Maxi didn’t have the time to climb through non-Euclidean space. She took a deep breath, walked down the corridor to room twenty three hundred seventy two and opened the door.

Monsieur L’Horloge’s assistant sat behind a crescent shaped desk. Six of its eight arms were punching the enameled brass keys that set into the machines built into the curved, mahogany top.

“One moment please, “ chirped the assistant.

Maxi gazed around the outer office. Framed sepia photos of famous clocks adorned the walls. It was difficult to tell if they were old pictures or just made to look old and she supposed it didn’t matter. It felt as though she had stepped over the threshold and gone back in time. Possible, but unlikely, time travel always slightly aroused her and she felt none of that familiar frisson.

“Monsieur will see you now,” issued the assistant.

The double doors opened silently and Maxi entered. Monsieur L’Horloge’s office was filled with crystal display cases filled with timepieces. Each clock and watch was synchronized, she could tell because the ticking matched. It made her felt as though she was in the heart of an enormous automata. Outside the tall windows, the building passed through cloud cover and the gaslights reflected off the cases.

Monsieur L’Horloge stood up as she approached his desk. He was, unlike his surroundings, slightly disheveled. He wore no jacket, his shirtsleeves rolled up, waistcoat unbuttoned and a jeweler’s loupe with multiple lenses over his mussed up fair hair.

“Mademoiselle Maxi! A pleasure!” he exclaimed.

He always sounded surprised even though he only saw people by appointment. Maxi supposed he got lost in his work as ironic that was.

“Monsieur, it is good to see you.”

“Is your Roosenmutter running well?”

“Yes, very much.”

“May I?” he asked.

She unlatched her chronoton from her wrist and passed it to him. He placed it carefully on the octagonal velvet tray that sat in the middle of his desk. With a practiced twist, he removed the case back and examined it with a series of loupes. Satisfied that it was running properly, he resealed it, gave it a polish with a soft cloth and returned it to Maxi.

“I’ve always admired how well you treat your time pieces. Many people are so very careless,” he said.

“You’ll make me blush Monsieur,” Maxi replied.

“Mademoiselle, you are not the type to blush, and since you Roosenmutter is running perfectly, why have you made this appointment?”

Maxi removed an oval cherry wood box from her bag. There was a brass spider embossed on the cover. She placed it on his desk and opened it. Monsieur L’Horloge’s eyes went wide.

“If I might enquire, where did you get this?” he asked quietly.

“My Semi-Aunt Ismay recently passed-“

Monsieur L’Horloge said, “My condolences.” But his eyes never left the contents of the cherry wood box.

“Merci, but she was quite elderly and passed in her sleep.”

“Terrible,” he said distractedly.

“This box and what lies inside were bequeathed to me. I don’t quite know what it is, there were no instructions, but I thought that if anyone could tell me, it would be Monsieur L’Horloge,” she finished.

For a while, the only sound was the synchronized ticking of the many clocks and chronotons in the room.

“Monsieur, can you tell me what this is?”

Monsieur L’Horloge took off his loupes and dropped into his chair. He ran his long fingers through his messy hair then looked up at her.

“Mademoiselle, let me ask you one question, do you have the key for what is in that box?”

“I’m afraid not.”

He sank a little deeper into his chair and smiled.

“Well then, for now time is not up.”

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Task

“What are you doing?” he asked.

She scooped up a handful of sand and placed it in the battered bucket next to her.

“Cleaning things up,” she replied.

He looked around them, there was nothing but sand as far as the eye could see.

“You’re wasting your time,” he stated with assurance.

She did not look up as she continued to fill her bucket but shrugged. Wind swept sand around them.

“I’m going back,” he said though he did not move.

“That’s fine,” she said.

“It’ll be getting dark soon.”

She dusted her hands and removed a lantern from her pack.

“Oh.”

For a while, there was no sound but the wind and the gentle packing of sand into a bucket. When the sky grew dim, she lit her lantern, picked up her full bucket and walked to the horizon.

“This will take forever!” he shouted at her, “You’re just one person!”

She stopped and turned back to him.

“Then help.”

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Lost Justice

Standing upon a pile of broken stone and steel, Over Might looked down at his foe, who lay supine at his booted feet. Finally it was over, the years of battling had grudgingly yielded victory. The hero might now know a measure of peace since justice was at hand.

“So Doctor Power-Man, your reign of evil is now at an end! I think you’ll find it a bitter draught! “ proclaimed Over Might.

“It’s Doctor Powderman, “ replied the prone figure, “I think you have the wrong address.”

Over Might’s brow furrowed.

“This is 689 East Maple Avenue, correct?”

“689 West Maple Avenue, “ said Dr. Powderman, who now that Over Might looked closer, was dressed not as a would-be world conqueror and more in the style of a suburban dad doing some yard work. Additionally, his skin was not any sort of impregnable alloy.

“Well, this is awkward,” said Over Might.

Posted in Humor, Short Stories | Tagged , , ,

But then again…

They sat in that evening in late autumn rain, waiting on a rooftop for the saleryman to emerge from the tube station. Mathis checked her gauss rifle to make sure it was still charged. There was an almost zero chance it would lose its charge, but she was meticulous. Shanna, who had set up a micro-cameras in a three-block radius checked the facial recognition algorithm installed in her eye. Still nothing.
“It’s so damn cold,” she said.
“So it is,” replied Mathis.
Neither woman spoke as the rain beat on roof as well as them. Shanna looked at her partner. Mathis resembled a middle-aged woman. In the past, Shanna asked her if she’d ever consider plastic surgery, they could make her look years younger in the time it would take to eat a meal. Mathis told her, “A middle-aged woman is often unseen, something that in our line of work is priceless.” The younger woman didn’t know if Mathis was modified to look that age or if she was that age. She supposed it didn’t really matter.
“There’s a coffee machine across the street,” Shanna observed wistfully, “Do I have enough time to get us a couple of cups?”
“Probably not,” she said.
“Damn.”
A moment passed.
“What kind of machine is it?” she asked.
Shanna zoomed in and read the name.
“Mestre Do Café. Not terrible for machine coffee.”
Mathis shook her head. “I won’t touch the stuff.”
Shanna smirked, “Coffee snob.”
“It’s not that. Did you ever hear of the Umbrella Man?”
“The legendary killer? Yeah, I’ve heard of him.”
“Do you know what happened to him?”
Shanna paused.
“He doesn’t work anymore. I just assumed he had enough credit to move up to one of the Orbitals and is living his best post-human life.”
“I too heard that rumor, though no one knows for sure. But I heard another one.”
Rain continued to piss down on both of them.
“Are you going to make me guess?” asked Shanna who was in no mood for guessing.
“No. But it is absurd,” she said.
“It has to be better than listening to the rain.”
“Very well. As you may know, the Umbrella Man had multiple body modifications, not crude chainsaw hands or obvious hydraulic legs, but subtle and bespoke enhancements. Invisible to the human eye and to all scans. These were very expensive, but then again, his own fees were such that if you had to ask, you should know that you could not afford them.”
Shanna sighed, everybody knew that part.
“One day he took a commission on a dictator. A terrible man, as all dictators are, but his security was exceptionally talented as well as true believers, which made them even more dangerous. This dictator did not drink alcohol, or use drugs and while he had an appetite for physical pleasures, his partners were scrupulously vetted. So the usual avenues were closed. But the Umbrella Man was undaunted. This dictator had one weakness, which he saw as a strength. He would not eat anything prepared by human chefs, because he did not trust them. Everything he ate or drank came from a vending machine, each picked randomly each day.”
“That’s disgusting!” Shanna said.
“I agree. But it an excellent way to not be poisoned, except for the terrible food and drink but I suspect that this man was already dead, spiritually speaking, so these synthetic meals had little effect. Now the Umbrella Man, as I heard the tale, goes to Mrs. Sai, the noted body mod specialist.”
“I know who she is Mathis, she did my eyes,” said Shanna.
“And a superlative job indeed. But the Umbrella Man wanted something unique, an untried mod. He wanted his consciousness implanted into a vending machine. Specifically, a Mestre Do Café machine.”
Shanna looked at her partner and wondered if she was taking the mickey out of her but she was not one for whimsy. Mathis shrugged her shoulders and continued.
“I am aware of how absurd this sounds. But it is genius, even if it is a bit mad,” observed Mathis.
“A bit mad? It sounds completely bonkers! Even it were true, which I don’t believe, how would he know that this dictator would chose the one he was in? That’s an insane gamble!”
Mathis smiled.
“Ah, but it isn’t. There are thousands of these machines, all over the world, from major cities to the smallest towns, they are omnipresent. However, they are all linked together effectively making them one machine, giving the Umbrella Man a would-wide view.”
“Then why not just hire a digital artiste to get into their system?”
“Mestre Do Café did not become the most prolific beverage machine by having a lackadaisical outlook on digital security. The word from my friends in the business is that their customer data is both extensive and viciously protected. But the Umbrella Man became as a spirit, watching patiently. He knew he would have only one shot, so to speak, to complete his contract. When the dictator placed his order from a machine, and it could be any machine, all he had to do was alter the synthesizing sub-routines for that one cup, and while it tasted like coffee, it also was laced with a nano-toxin that would cause a massive, irreparable stroke. Job done”
The only sound was the incessant rain as Shanna looked at Mathis. It was ridiculous. Urban legend. The sort of story you might tell over drinks or to kill time.
“That’s bullshit,” she said, “How would he get out? Why wasn’t he caught by the digital security? How did it not make it on the grid?”
Mathis checked her rifle once more and sighed.
“As I told you, it’s an absurd tale. Most likely rumor and nonsense, as you said, bullshit. However, even the most preposterous story may have a particle of truth. Do I think a cup of Mestre Do Café will kill me? No. But then again…”

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Six times eleven

Evil lives in darkness and sunshine.

Hope is a lie and yet…

Too busy to answer, oh really?

Get through the day, that’s enough.

Ocean glitters prettily. Sharks lurk below.

Check for traps. That’s good advice.

Ending or beginning, answer the call.

They lost when surrender was given.

Magic exists, is this your card?

She died unfulfilled, many books unread.

Summertime problems solved by ice cream.

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