Coffee Shop in an Alternate Universe
It was the sun on his eyes that brought James out of a dream that was already escaping his grasp. Something about a forest of green sun dappled leaves and overpowering fragrance. He awoke with a sneeze.
Recovering himself, he felt warm hard concrete against his back. Turning his head he made out the edge of double yellow lines. He was lying the road. What? He rolled to his feet, dodging over to the pavement in order to avoid whatever cars or traffic that was coming his way. It took him only a moment to realise that there was none. All the cars he could see - the range rovers, the aston martin, the fiesta – all were still, inert, but not parked, just stopped, a queue of traffic with no drivers and no humming engines.
This was London, he knew it was London, but it was so quiet, so dead. He looked up at the buildings rising overhead, shielding his eyes from the sun. Buildings that literally scraped the sky and that should have been full of commerce and activity. He saw no movement and somehow knew they were just as empty as the street he stood upon. He was alone.
Turning around he saw his favourite Starbucks waiting for him. The same Starbucks he spent every lunchtime with a coffee and a book listening to jazz. Brushing down his dishevelled suit, he walked over to it and pushed through the door. The cold breeze of the air conditioning greeted him and then something else, someone else.
It was Tracey, his normal server, dressed in her starbucks uniform, she appeared to be waiting for him.
“Tracey?” he mumbled.
“The usual?” she asked.
He strode up to the counter. “The usual?” He rapidly gestured outside, “What’s happened?”
She followed his gaze, her expression more tired than usual. He normally saw her with a smile on her face, always a smile, a beautiful plastic smile for all her customers.
“This is where I come to be by myself,” Tracey explained. “You followed me here.”
James blinked and opened his mouth. “I didn’t follow you. I always come here.”
She sighed. “Not here, here,” she gestured with a sweep of her hand. “Here. A sidestep away. I’m on my break.”
“Break?” He found it hard to understand the ramifications.
“Now that you are here,” she pulled out a cup. “The usual?”
James shook his head and rubbed a chin that was no longer as clean shaven as he would have liked. “This doesn’t make sense.”
“Just sit down,” Tracey said. “I’ll be with you in a minute.”
Slowly he felt his limbs respond and took a window seat looking out onto a beautiful summer’s day in the centre of the city of London. Beautiful, but so empty. He loosened his tie and Tracey delivered his Moche.
“You’re the first to follow me here, James, the first ever. How did you do it?”
He heard jazz and blinked rapidly as she mouthed more words he couldn’t hear.
“Did you just turn that on?” he asked.
She replied again with words he couldn’t hear. The jazz was getting louder. It was playing a horn solo he had heard so many times before.
“Don’t go back yet!” She cut in abruptly.
“What is this?” He asked, scrambling from his seat and knocking his coffee cup flying with a stray hand. The cup flew through the air and then fell in vivid slow motion, the brown liquid spilling upward. Then it smashed, the whole episode over in an instant.
“Calm down, James,” Tracey said. “Only a few people can do what we can do. Just a very few. I never thought I would meet another.”
“Do what?” he asked. “What?” Suddenly it was very hot.
“Travel between,” she whispered. “Distant and close at the same time.”
“This doesn’t make any sense,” he mumbled.
Tracey laughed. “I’m not alone anymore.” She stared at him, studying his grey suit and his even greyer hair. “Oh...” Then she was gone.
He blinked, she was gone and he was alone in an empty Starbucks, in what appeared to be an empty London. An empty world? He stood up and wiped the sweat from his brow. He had to go outside and find out.