Chuck Wendig’s challenge last week was to write a genre mash-up of two genre’s picked from a list of twenty. I have said it before, I know, but I hate these genre challenges, they usually trip up my brain no end, but to my utter amazement I actually got an idea that I really liked this time. Without the added bonus of an increased word limit of 1500 I wouldn’t have made it though.
I picked Time Travel and Low Fantasy. Now I am not sure I hit the mark on any of these, I researched Low Fantasy, and I think I’ve got my setting down OK, but I don’t really know about the Time Travel business. I’ll leave that up to you to judge.
Now off to figure out this week’s challenge that I haven’t even read yet.
A Good Cup of Joe
By Trine Toft Schmidt
It was still dark when Maddie made her way down Lexington toward her local coffee pusher. She was shivering, thick strands of precipitation poured out of the dark sky, and since she wasn’t an umbrella kind of girl, she was soaked to the skin.
The streets were empty, though now and then, a car would blast past, as if trying to outrun the rain. One Mercedes, swerving with intent, drove through the puddle formed over a useless drain and soaked her even more. God dammit. She picked up her pace, almost running now. Just one more block, she cheered herself on, she could almost smell the coffee.
She was utterly unprepared when a figure stepped out in front of her and grabbed her. She screamed and kicked out with her heels, but failed to make an impact. The man dragged her effortlessly into the alley and slammed her against the wall, under a weak flourescent light.
Her heart stopped, her blood turning to ice in her veins, and her muscles went slack.
But it was impossible. He was in jail. They’d promised her he would never get out.
He stepped closer to her, so she could see him properly, his thin bloodless lips stretched in a sick grin.
“I bet, you thought you’d never see me again.” He calmly wrapped his hands around her neck, squeezing lightly. Then he tapped her head back against the wall, and black spots began to hop and dance in front of her eyes. Her lungs were burning with the lack of air.
She tried to not cry, but tears ran down her cheeks anyway. She hated that her body betrayed her like this, but most of all, she hated that she’d stopped looking over her shoulder for him.
“I told you I would kill you, didn’t I honey?” For a second he eased his hold on her and wild hope surged through her. “And you know I always keep my promises.” He lifted his hand and light glinted off a knife. He twisted it, made sure she knew what was coming. Then he put the tip to her cheek.
There was a thunder-clap and the light above her flickered. Wayne froze, sneering, the knife pressing on her cheekbone. She wanted to close her eyes, but she was paralyzed, her limbs locked in place. The sound of her heart in her ears was gone, the burn of missing air in her lungs had vanished. It was as if time had just stopped being.
Maybe she was dead, she thought, staring at Waynes’s insane eyes. Maybe when you died, time stopped and you were caught in the moment of your death forever. Maybe that was what hell was. Consciousness, but frozen, forever.
Or, she thought vaguely, trying to find a way out of the hopelessness, maybe it was just some new psychological avoidance shit she was doing to herself. Shutting herself down so she wouldn’t feel the pain.
Something moved to her left, and she snapped to, struggling to see what it was out of the corner of her eye. A tall dark figure was making his way down the alley toward them.
He stepped into the weak light, so close she could see the wet spots on his hoodie. Maybe he was a time travelling hitman, she thought as he lifted his hands to her neck. But he didn’t touch her, just started tearing Wayne’s hands away from her, forcefully snapping his fingers back until they cracked. The knife hung suspended in the air, until the man took it and flung it down the alley. Maddie followed its twirling path until it dropped out of sight. So maybe she wasn’t going to die.
The hooded man stepped around Wayne, and she caught a glimpse of his face. It looked familiar. But before she could dig out the relevant information from her sluggish brain, he grabbed her arm and leaned in close, tipped her over his shoulder like he was some firefighter rescuing the damsel in distress. She hung there like a doll, stiff and immovable, her perspective of the world up side down and skewed.
He turned toward the street and Maddie caught a last glimpse of Wayne. His eyes were glittering with expectant glee and wild rage. Maybe he was conscious somewhere inside too.
The man carried her down the street as if she weighed less than nothing. All she could see, bouncing over his shoulder, was the pavement and the way his feet left footsteps in the rain dimpled surface, as if the slick of water was just a layer of solid matter. Every step cast small drops up into the air, where they hung suspended as if gravity had also ceased to exist.
After a little while the man stopped and bent awkwardly, and her view shifted again as he deposited her into a car seat, manipulating her joints until she sat almost right. He closed the door and slid in behind the wheel, flicking on the light. Then he leaned in and she could finally see him.
She did know him. It was the barista from the coffee shop. Joe something. When he spoke she could almost smell the coffee she associated with his deep baritone voice.
“Listen, stopping time is easy, but it has a cost. When time starts… its not pleasant.” His knuckles were white on the wheel. “The longer the stop, the harder the start.”
Yeah, she was going insane, sitting in a car like an over sized doll, hearing a shaggy haired barista talk about stopping time. She was ripe for the mental institution.
“Try and think of something nice.”
Whatever happened it couldn’t be as bad as Wayne, she thought as the world resumed, as rain started pelting down on the car with a roar and she plunged over the edge, like the world was a damn rollercoaster on steroids and speed. She was sucked back into the seat falling down into nothingness. Her stomach pitched and bucked, and her brain felt like it was on fire. Every cell in her body hurt, her heart screaming with pain. It raced, faster and faster, as if trying to catch up to its lost beats, slamming against her ribs and breastbone, deflating her lungs with it’s wild thrashing. Her head spun out of control, like a carousel, flinging her thoughts carelessly to the side.
Joe might have saved me just to kill me again, she thought just before everything went a blinding bright white and she lost consciousness.
It was the sound of the ocean that brought her back. The roar and crash of waves on rocks. The swoosh of water withdrawing from coarse sand.
She pried her eyes open. Joe was a dark outline, standing over her, haloed by the fiery sun right behind him.
“Gah” Grit was lodged in her throat, like she’d been crying. The skin on her face felt taut and stiff. She coughed and rolled over to her side.
His shadow disappeared and he threw himself down on the sand next to her. He was dressed in red surfer shorts and a green tank top, his legs and arms tanned a beautiful shade of light honey brown.
“Are you OK?” His eyes were a deep dark green that matched his tank top.
She took a moment to take inventory. Her heart was back to a normal steady rhythm, her body seemed to be under her command and she still had access to her brain. At least the basics were in order.
“A little dizzy.” Air rasped her sore throat and she swallowed.
“Yeah. It’ll pass.” He leaned his arms on his knees and looked out over the water.
Maddie turned and surveyed her surroundings. White sand, deep blue water, palm trees, black jagged rocks. Deserted. Gorgeous. It didn’t looke like any beach she knew.
She dug her fingers into the warm sand and watched the waves crash.
“Am I going insane?” If she was, this beach was a pretty nice place to be institutionalized.
Joe shifted, twirled his finger into the sand.
“No. You’re not insane. But I don’t blame you for thinking you might be.” Sand vortex’ed around his twirling finger.
“Where…” she looked up at the sun, high in the sky. “When are we?” She glanced over to see his face, his green eyes were locked on his finger, and he took his time answering.
“But I don’t understand. What the hell are you? Some time traveling superhero Barista?” A lopsided grin flashed on his lips.
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. I shouldn’t have done this, you know?” She disagreed. She was more than fine with being alive.
“With all that weird shit, I’m pretty sure I’ll believe anything you say.”
He shook his head and dug his other hand into the sand under his little vortex. The gorgeous smell of coffee, warm and delicious, rose from the hole in the sand. He lifted his hand, and handed her a white porcelain cup of steaming coffee. She took it, but stared at the sand between his knees.
“Let’s just say I’m really good with coffee.” He said and brushed sand off his hands.