Coffee. Pandemics. Unemployment.
An unusual silence blanketed the City of Saint Charles.
It was almost ten o’clock on a weekday morning. Under different circumstances, the city would have been a scene of bustling metropolitan prosperity. Streets full of traffic. People working. Money transacting.
Coffee—that gloriously capitalistic, black liquid gold—fueling everything.
Under different circumstances.
The heels of expensive Italian shoes clicked against pavement and echoed through the concrete canyon of the city’s downtown district. A gust of wind picked up a scrap of newspaper and tossed it through an intersection.
A deer trotted out from around a building and found a patch of grass to inspect. Sunlight cut through the skyline and illuminated the deer until it was practically glowing.
It was a goddamned picture-perfect moment.
The owner of the Italian shoes grimaced.
This was all wrong.
The city had ground to a halt. And while the smog and pollution had lifted--nature creeped its way back into the concrete jungle--the people of the City of Saint Charles were as miserable and hopeless as ever. They were locked away, isolated from their fellow humans in a desperate attempt to slow a viral pandemic that was steadily rewriting the future of mankind.
Greg couldn’t help but sneer in disgust as he walked down the middle of the empty downtown street.
He was frustrated. Angry. But mostly, Greg was disappointed.
The world had taken a shit so big, it was suffocating all life on the planet. This wasn’t just one for the history books--this was going to be carved in the Stones of Time.
And Greg wasn’t responsible for any of it.
For the love of fuck.
From the pocket of tailored pants, Greg fished a key out to unlock the main entrance to his coffee shop. It was the flagship store of a successful franchise that peppered the Eastern Seaboard.
Religiously Roasted Every Goddamn Day. Coffee So Devilishly Good, It’s Practically a Sin.
Greg stepped into his black-and-red themed coffee shop and locked the door behind him. He wasn’t going to have any customers, the city’s lockdown orders had made sure of that.
Pocketing the key, Greg looked around the empty shop. He had built the company from nothing--the perfect execution of needlessly expensive coffee that quickly became a compulsive necessity in the daily routines of thousands. Greg made no bones about it--he had shamelessly ripped off those guys in Seattle, put a little Satanic spin on it, and started racking up exponential soul points as soon as the franchisees started signing on.
Sure, the shop was called ‘Religiously Roasted Every Goddamn Day’ but there was nothing special about the coffee beans. There was nothing special about the brew. Greg just marked up the price --six dollars for a cup of otherwise cheap black coffee--slapped together some fancy marketing spin and then sat back to let the coffee do its thing.
It was a motherfucking perfect time to be a demon in America.
Above the coffee shop were the corporate offices of Religiously Roasted. Greg sat in his executive conference room--a blacked-out affair with crimson foot lights spilling an ominous glow across the walls.
An ostentatious 100-inch television was mounted to the wall and after logging into the video conferencing network, familiar faces started appearing in a grid on the screen.
“--doesn’t matter what they do! This thing is relentless,” Mr. Paz bloviated. “And the States? With how much those mouth-breathers have been downplaying it, this thing will last for years! Undoubtedly some of my finest work in centuries.”
Mr. Paz realized Greg had joined the call.
“Mr. Mammon!” Paz said with a grin that was unnaturally wide and unnecessarily toothy. “How’s business?”
Mr. Paz put an extra bit of bite on ‘business’.
Greg didn’t like Paz, but then no one did. Mr. Paz was an arrogant, condescending bag of hot air who naturally assumed that all other demonic work was somehow less than the unholy work of disease, pestilence, and death. The problem with that assumption was that in the past decade of Greg’s mini coffee empire, he collected more soul points than Paz’s outbreaks of influenza, measles, and HIV. Combined.
This new virus was like Mr. Paz had scooped up the game board and proclaimed no one else could play any more.
“Simply put, not good,” Ms. Astarr jumped in. She handled the accounting for most demonic enterprises. Her speciality was finding all the loopholes and shortcuts to take advantage of local economies. “In fact, Mr. Paz, your ‘magnum opus’ has greatly handicapped all of our work. If something doesn’t change soon in the States, Mr. Mammon’s business will be insolvent by the end of the month.”
Mr. Paz did a terrible job of containing his glee over his colleagues’ misfortune.
Mr. Abad was red in his round, puffy face. He was also based in the States, although he had a much more mobile operation than Greg. “You cocksucking sonofabitch,” Abad practically spat into his webcam. “You know what doesn’t happen now that everyone is in isolation?!”
“Mass shootings!” Abad screamed, a vein throbbing in his forehead.
Greg sighed and rubbed his eyes as the demons yelled at each other. This was why he liked coffee. It was a far less messy way to earn those soul points. He picked up the tall glass of pineapple juice that sat on a black coaster upon the black conference table and took a long sip.
Mr. Paz, Ms. Astarr, and Mr. Abad had similar glasses of pineapple juice and had been drinking throughout the call. Demons couldn’t get drunk on alcohol, but there was something about the acidity in pineapples that could get them just this side of buzzed.
Before he realized it, Greg’s tall glass of pineapple juice was empty.
Well, if ever there was a time.
“Excuse me,” Greg said with a wave of his hand, pulling the attention of the bickering demons. “I think we can all agree that Mr. Paz is a cunt--”
Mr. Paz attempted to respond but Greg cut him off as he grabbed a pitcher of iced pineapple juice and refilled his glass.
“--which I obviously mean in the most complimentary of ways. To be the architect of such a devastating virus …” Greg paused and shook his head thoughtfully.
After a moment to collect his thoughts, Greg said: “Mr. Paz, our collective anger is surpassed only by our collective jealously.” He raised a fresh glass of pineapple juice to the screen. “Cheers to your accomplishment.”
The change of tone made Mr. Paz uncomfortable and as the other demons sipped, begrudging Paz his success, Greg paced his conference room.
“I think we can all agree that this is truly unprecedented. Our work--even for you, Mr. Paz--is evaporating.”
“I’ve looked at it in every possible way,” Ms. Astarr stated, “and I just don’t see how a demon is supposed to effectively torture humans under these conditions.”
“Exactly,” Greg agreed. “Mr. Paz, your accomplishments aside, it is humans like that insufferable president that have been screwing things up for us for years.”
“They’re torturing themselves with that one,” Astarr said.
“We can argue amongst ourselves all we want, but it is the humans who have taken our jobs and put us out of work,” Greg said.
Paz shrugged. “I’m still working.”
“But for how long?!” Greg shot back. “These people have traded their sense of survival--their human spirit--for rank stupidity and reality television antics from their Cheeto in Chief!”
A quiet fell over the video conference. Greg finished his glass of pineapple juice and sat down again, defeated and dejected.
“So … what are we supposed to do?” Mr. Abad asked.
Greg shook his head. “I don’t know. Obviously we need to pivot.”
“Pivot?” Ms. Astarr repeated incredulously.
Greg nodded. “Indeed. Pivot.”
Anger was bubbling back up in Mr. Abad’s screen. “No. No-no-no-no. I’ve been doing mass shootings for decades. This is what I do. I can’t just pivot.”
“None of us had backup plans, Mr. Abad,” Greg stressed, growing tired of Abad’s staunch inflexibility. “But this is the reality we’re in. Soul points have plummeted and may even disappear completely. Our very survival on this plane of existence means using a little bit of imagination and fucking pivoting.”
“Gentlemen?” Ms. Astarr had raised a thoughtful finger. “Perhaps we can agree that the fundamental premise of our work here on earth is to torture the humans.”
“Then perhaps it also stands to reason,” Ms. Astarr continued, “that if the humans keep turning to leadership that effectively does our job for us--and bear with me on this--maybe our pivot should be, instead of torturing the humans, we should help them.”
Mr. Abad blinked.
Mr. Paz looked sick.
Greg clicked his teeth pensively. “… help the humans?”
Ms. Astarr shrugged. “It may be the only way for us to survive.”
“To help the humans survive.”
Greg poured another glass of pineapple juice. He drained it in one long sip.
He sighed. “… we could always pivot back to the torture. You know, later.”
Mr. Paz threw up a little.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jordan Krumbine is a professional video editor, digital artist, and creative wizard currently quarantined in Kissimmee, Florida. When not producing content for the likes of Visit Orlando, Orlando Sentinel, or AAA National, Jordan is probably yelling at a stubbornly defective Macbook keyboard, tracking creative projects in Trello, and animating quirky videos with LEGO and other various toys.