KO-FI GOAL REWARD STORY: A HOT CUP AT THE LAST STATION

Wow. Yesterday I posted to my Ko-Fi that I needed a little help with some unexpected financial issues that hit us this month. I set a modest goal of $50 and promised I’d post an out-of-print piece of fiction at my Ko-Fi account and on my webpages as a reward if we hit the goal.

Well, we reached the goal in about an hour. I thank all of you who contributed to my Ko-Fi and helped me reach this goal. I deeply appreciated you. As promised, here is your reward!

A Hot Cup at the Last Station first appeared in the online magazine Bards and Sages Quarterly, Volume #2 – Issue #3 on July 2010. I thought it appropriate, since I raised this money on my Ko-Fi account, to give you a story set in a coffee shop. This story is part of my Mythic Twin Cities setting.

Enjoy.

A HOT CUP AT THE LAST STATION

“Why doesn’t he go home?”

I shrugged and continued to wipe the coffee mug with a towel.

“I’m asking you. Why can’t he drink his coffee and go home like a normal customer?”

I looked up at Vanessa Holcomb. I had hired her three months ago. She was the closest thing I had to a friend. “He’s waiting for someone, that’s all.”

“Well I don’t think they’re coming, and I need to sweep and put up the chairs before I can leave.” She reached behind her head and reassembled her dark brown hair into a short ponytail.

“Why don’t you go home? I’ll clean up in the morning.”

Vanessa gave the old man a distrustful glare through her glasses. “You shouldn’t have to; you’re supposed to be off tonight.” She turned her fierce gaze on me. “What are you doing down here, anyway?”

I remembered at the last minute it was the third Wednesday of the month and came downstairs, knowing the old man would be sitting here keeping his lonely vigil. But I just shrugged in answer to her question. “I just can’t seem to stay away.”

“Kenny–”

I held up a hand to forestall the coming rant. “I know. I spend too much time working, I should get out more.” Vanessa’s nagging should have angered me, but somehow it just made me smile. I suspected it was because she was not one of the college kids I usually hired. Vanessa and I were contemporaries: both of us well on the dark side of thirty.

“Well, you should,” she said, wiping down the steamer. “You shouldn’t spend all your time-off lurking upstairs.”

“I live upstairs.” The coffee shop was housed in an old two-story train depot. I had converted the upstairs into an apartment for myself after I bought the building.

“Well, you shouldn’t live down here too.”

“What would I do if I went out?”

“Go have a beer. Hit a show. Something besides stay home. Get out and meet some people.” She finished polishing the steamer to within an inch of its life, and started stacking the clean cups behind the counter.

“I don’t drink, and I don’t care to sit around watching a bunch of lonely people staring at a mediocre band. Besides, I can meet people right here.”

She nodded toward the old man, sipping his cold black coffee and idly fingering a rose. “You want to end up like him?”

“What about you?” I countered. It was unfair and I knew it. She was a single mother, working two part-time jobs to make ends meet. All of her spare time was spent with her kids.

“That’s different.”

“I’m sorry. That was uncalled for.”

She scowled as she finished the cups. When she put the last one on the shelf, she turned to me again. “You’re a nice guy, Ken. You shouldn’t become grandpa over there.”

I looked up and caught her eyes. There was something in them I could not identify. It made me uncomfortable. “I thought I told you to go home.”

“You did.”

“So why are you still here? Go be with your kids.”

Vanessa untied her apron. “I think I will.” She tossed the apron into the laundry hamper and retrieved her purse from the office. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“If you want, you can come in a little late. I’m going to clean up in the morning, so I’ll open.”

She laughed softly. “I’ll be here at five-thirty. Make sure the place is clean and set up.”

“Who’s the owner here?”

“You are, Kenny, you are,” she said as she walked out the door. The lock clicked into place behind her, and she disappeared into the night.

I stacked the chairs and turned off all the lights, except the one over the old man’s table. I knew he wouldn’t mind; we had engaged in this routine every third Wednesday since I bought the coffee shop from him five years ago. I swept the floor and stocked the small refrigerator under the counter. When I checked the clock it was just after eleven.

I poured the last of the plain coffee into a cup, walked over to the old man’s table, set the cup in front of him, and turned away.

The old man’s raspy voice broke the silence. “She’s right. You shouldn’t end up like me.”

I turned back toward him. “I like my life well enough.”

“You have even less a life than I.”

“This from a man who’s spent the last sixty years waiting for a woman on a train that will never come.”

He picked up the rose and rolled the stem between his fingers. He brought a rose with him every third Wednesday. I knew in the morning I would find it left behind on the table, just like all the others.

“She’ll be here,” he whispered.

“Sure.”

“Vanessa likes you. You should ask her out.”

“I don’t date my employees.”

“Coward.”

“Make sure the lock is set when you go.”

“Don’t I always?” he said as I climbed the stairs to my apartment.

Once in my rooms, I felt restless. I pulled down the shoebox full of rosebuds from the closet shelf. I’d saved the bud off every rose the old man had left. I’m not sure why I saved them, but I had sixty of them now. I picked one up and felt the crisp, delicate, dead thing under my fingers.

Perhaps I was a coward.

But cowards don’t end up sitting alone in an empty coffee shop waiting for a woman who vanished six decades ago.

No, a little voice in the back of my mind whispered, cowards end up living out their days hiding in their apartment, mourning a woman who died eight winters past.

I settled down in my chair and closed my eyes, still clutching the shoebox of dead roses. That was the fundamental difference between myself and the old man downstairs. He clung to his irrational belief that a lost love might somehow come back to him. I knew that the love stolen from me by a drunk driver never would. The old man lived for a dream. I knew the truth: Six feet of dark earth held my heart down.

The low rumble was my first intimation something was wrong. My apartment started to tremble, its windows rattling ominously. I grabbed the arms of my chair, spilling the box of rosebuds over my lap and onto the floor.

Earthquake, I thought in a panic as the rumble grew in volume. The more sensible part of my mind reminded me that I’m not on the west coast anymore. I’m living in the Midwest, where earthquakes are rare. The room lit-up from the outside, as if someone were holding a spotlight pointed through my window. The building gave another shudder as a terrible roaring and hissing filled my ears. There was a final rattling of the windows, and everything settled.

In the silence that followed, I made my way cautiously downstairs, certain there would be broken coffee cups littering the floor and other, more severe, damage.

There was nothing different, except the old man sitting in his chair. His eyes were closed; a small smile stretched across his face. The rose rested on the floor under his limp hand.

The ambulance and police arrived ten minutes after I called 911.

#

A month later, on the third Wednesday, I found myself standing over a grave with a simple temporary marker. Clarence Sorenson, I read, kneeling down. I reached into the small insulated bag I had brought and pulled out two cups and a thermos. I poured for both of us, setting his cup against the marker.

“Congratulations,” I whispered, raising my cup in a toast. “I hope you’re both happy, wherever you are.”

I placed sixty rosebuds on the mound of dirt that covered him. I had to believe that because he never stopped loving her, even after all those long, lonely years, she finally came for him. If I can believe that, maybe I can believe I’m not such a coward after all.

I spent the day walking the streets of my town, coming at last to the depot-turned-coffeehouse I called home. I saw the place was empty, except for Vanessa, who stood behind the counter, cleaning it with a dishrag.

I refused to wait sixty years.

“Hey,” I said, walking inside and turning the sign from “Open” to “Closed.” “You want to knock off early and go get a beer or something?”

Vanessa gave me a sharp, curious look. “I thought you didn’t drink.”

“I don’t. But I wasn’t sure how you would feel about a cup of coffee, everything considered.”

She waved her hand dismissively. “Coffee’s okay, but you’re going to have to clean this place up in the morning.”

“That’s fine.”

I turned off all the lights, except the one over the old man’s table, while she retrieved her purse from the office.

“Where to?” Vanessa asked as I locked the door behind us.

I smiled what might have been my first genuine smile in eight years. “It doesn’t matter.”

Her arm slipped into mine as we walked to her car.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Buy Me A (Bunch of) Coffee

Life has thrown some unfortunate twists at me and my family, so I’ve decided to set up a goal on my Ko-Fi. Any help is appreciated and if we hit the $50 goal, I will post an out-of-print piece of fiction at my website and on my Ko-Fi for everyone’s enjoyment. Push the button on the right of the page with a coffee cup on it.

https://ko-fi.com/mmerriam

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Snakes, Revolvers, and Shovels

Story time, y’all.

I was engaged in a conversation recently about how parents deal with children who are distressed in the middle of the night, whether a nightmare, some other fear inducing situation, or other emergency. This brought to mind a story about your narrator being raised by his Greatest Generation Depression Era Grandparents.

When I was about 10 years old, I woke one night because I felt (and was quite sure I saw) a large snake slither over me on the bed. As this was deeply rural Oklahoma, this was well within the realms of the possible.

Now, I was a Very Self-Sufficient Child, but as you might imagine, a (quite possible) snake waking me was surprising and terrifying. During daylight hours a snake would have been little remarked upon, except to possible kill it if it was dangerous, but this was something like 2:00 AM, so I feel no shame in having set up a hue and cry, which summoned my grandfather from the next room.

After explaining what happened, he looked at me and said. “Wait here.” He left the room for a few minutes and when he returned, he handed me a loaded .22 revolver and said, “If you see the snake, you know what to do.” And then he went back to bed, leaving 10-year-old me sitting on my bed clutching a loaded gun in the same room as a possible snake.

At some point I dropped off to sleep. When I awoke, there was neither a snake nor did I have the gun. At the breakfast table, I recounted my tale. My grandmother looked my grandfather squarely in the eyes and said, “Arthur, you don’t give a child a gun to kill a snake in the middle of the night in the house.”

She vanished outside for several minutes, probably to the derelict cotton gin turned barn. When she returned, she handed me an army surplus folding shovel (aka an entrenching tool) with it’s very sharp point. “This is what you give a child to kill a snake in the house.” She then looked at me sternly. “Now finish your breakfast and go take care of the cattle (on horseback).”

This explains so much about me.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Appearing at The Loft Wordplay.

Catherine Lundoff and I will reading from the Queen of Swords press anthology SCOURGE OF THE SEAS OF TIME (AND SPACE) on May 12th at 2:00 PM on the Target Stage as part of The Loft Word Play. Please come out and see us!

https://loft.org/wordplay/about-wordplay

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

No Longer Home

Here is the piece I performed this week at the Not-So-Silent Planet Spec Fic open mic. After a good 4 year run, this was the last time NSSP will be at Kieran’s Irish Pub. I wrote this specifically for the occasion and so will probably never be able to do it anywhere else again. I thought I’d share it with you. Hopefully, I will have video of the performance to put up soon.

No Longer Home

We returned one last time, to see, seeking closure. This place was no longer where our heart’s dwelled. But once…

The words fell tripping like lightning off lips and tongues to waiting ears, spun tales into the hearts of audiences, stories filled the room transporting us from the sadness of the day into imaginations deep with joy, transformed us from dull drones beaten by the relentless stamp of jobs and bills and fears into shining beacons of light and story.

We morphed into our truest selves, touched worlds unexplored, laid out verbal vistas like playgrounds of the mind. We pushed back entropy, struck sparks against the darkness, raised glasses, raised voices, raised each other up, created our chosen family, made space for professionals or first-timers, young, old, angry, funny, sad, joyous. We sought to centered those once silenced, once abandoned in the margins; oh, my brothers and sisters, in this space we were mighty.

All things change. This is truth. All things must change, even this place we loved, created as our heart’s home. This place no longer held us in its embrace.

And just like that, it no longer felt like home.

It no longer felt like home, so there was no reason to stay, and though the future seemed uncertain, filled with monsters built to feed our fears, our anxieties lurking poised to shred the community we’d built, we remembered. We remembered these walls, this shell, is not home. Home is where your people are. Remember this: home is always were your people are.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New Announced Appearance

Confirmed – I will be the The Loft Literary Center newest book festival Wordplay on May 11th and 12th in Minneapolis.  I will be reading with Catherine Lundoff and Queen of Swords Press on Sunday the 12th at 2 pm on the Pop-Up Stage.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New Appearances in 2019

Hey, Everyone! Here is a list of conventions and other events Michael will be attending! I will update this list as we add things, so make sure you check back and navigate to the Appearances page!

13 Gears  is an eclectic Steampunk Expo in the Twin Cities hosted in the  historic Grain Belt Brewery building. February 9th and 10th.  I will selling books at a table with Queen of Swords Press and author Patrick Marsh. 

Paganicon is an alternative spirituality and religion convention held in Plymouth, Minnesota. It is a mid-sized convention with a wide variety of panels, rituals, workshops, and music. March 22nd – March 24th,  2019.

I will be appearing with Queen of Swords Press at the Twin Cities newest bookstore, Cream and Amber in support of the anthology Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space) on May 19th in Hopkins, MN.



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

2019 Artist Goals

This year I promised I would keep my goals to things I can control.  To do anything else is to set myself up for frustration. With that in mind, here are my 2019 Artist goals.

  • Find a title for Baseball Sorceress novella and prepare it for submission.
  • Continue submitting novel to agents.
  • Continue submitting short fiction to markets.
  • Prepare and submit a short story collection.
  • Finish preparing and published the Sixguns & Sorcery omnibus edition.
  • Seek out more opportunities to perform in storytelling shows.
  • Work on returning to acting.
  • Write a feature length stage play.
  • Write a feature length screen play.

This seems a little ambitious to me, but at the same time, no sense in not going for the gold.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

2018 Year in Review Post

Unless something wacky happens, 2018 is in the books for art career stuff. It was a pretty low-key year this year.  I am in the middle of agent queries on a novel, preparing to publish an omnibus edition (with new material) of my Sixguns & Sorcery novellas, and preparing the still untitled Baseball Sorceress novella for critiques. I will talk about my 2019 goals in a later post.

Essay Publication:

  • “We Are Not Daredevil. Except When We Are Daredevil.” Uncanny Magazine #24.

Short Fiction Publications:

  • “Fast Gliding Down the Rails” in The Unfit.
  • “Tenari” in Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space) 

Stage Plays Produced:

  • “The Cursed Script” Co-written with Fox Barrett. Three performances as part of Planet Fest.

Literary Readings:

  • Except from “Tenari.” Eat My Words Books.
  • Except from “Tenari.” Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space)release party. DreamHaven Books and Comics.
  • “All Our Love, the Future, and excerpts from Not Enough Midnights and “Untitled Baseball Story.” DreamHaven Books and Comics.

Spoken-Word Performance:

  • “The Most Wonderful Time.” The Not-So-Silent Planet.

Master of Ceremonies:

  • Minnesota Speculative Fiction Writers Presents: Word Brew 6.

Podcasts Guest:

  • The Not-So Silent Planet Episode TBA.
  • The Not-So Silent Planet Episode TBA.

Presentations:

  • “A Blind Person Walks Into A Theater.” VSA Minnesota. Hopkins Center for the Arts.

Other Appearances:

  • GPS Geek Emporium. Minneapolis, MN.
  • Twin Cities Book Festival. Falcon Heights, MN.
  • Books and Beer Pop-up Bookstore. Minneapolis, MN.
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Reading and Signing at DreamHaven Books this Wednesday!

Reminder that Wednesday I will be reading from my space opera short story “Tenari,” published in this anthology, and will be there to help the editor and publisher sell books! Come out for the release party! Details in the link below!

https://www.facebook.com/events/482618685575830/

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment