I used to be a veritable coffee addict, but it wasn’t just the caffeine I craved. Each time I brought a fresh cup of java near my face, my nose needed the rich roasted aroma, my tongue treasured the bitter tang, and my throat thanked the soothing warmth when I swallowed. Regrettably, let me tell you what caused me to change my mind and quit coffee cold.
I had a mid-morning interview for a job downtown, so being a punctual person I arrived over an hour early. Instead of waiting in the lobby, I took a seat in a local coffee shop down the street. First I connected my computer to a hotspot and then went to the counter to order a cup of Joe. The woman barista was strikingly handsome. Her long dark hair curled past her shoulders as an introduction to her slim and shapely form, but it was her inviting crimson lips that really drew my attention.
“Sir, can I help you?” she beckoned.
I looked at the menu on the wall behind her, pretending that I hadn’t been gawking at her body and asked, “It says you have some new autumnal flavors?”
Her copious red lips smiled, “Yes sir, we have three new drinks. Two of them are one-hundred percent vegan…they are Mandrake Mocha and Vulfsbane Vanilla.” She pronounced wolfsbane with a V.
My face must have betrayed my confusion, so she asked, “Is there something wrong, sir?”
“Well,” I answered, “I guess I was expecting something like pumpkin spice or apple cinnamon.”
Her grin widened, “I see…well we were trying something different this year; something less November and more October if you get what I’m saying.”
I shook my head, “I don’t really like mocha or vanilla; what was the third option?”
“It’s called Lifeblood Almond. It’s a luxuriously nutty new twist on our popular Blackberry Merlot red-eye. A red-eye is a robust blend of coffee with expresso. It’s quite potent.”
I hesitated, “That’s a strange name…and you said the other two were vegan, why isn’t this one?”
“Tee-hee,” she giggled, “you’ve heard that some food dyes aren’t exactly vegan, well we use some ingredients like that in order to tint the drink a deeper red than our traditional Blackberry Merlot. It’s just for effect, and as for the name, it’s all part of the novelty of the season.”
I guess I’d heard that some red dyes were made using crushed insects and I was okay with it. “Fine,” I said, “I’ll try one of those.”
In short order she handed me a big ceramic mug of the ruddy coffee and pointed to the counter where I could add spices, sugar, and cream to taste. I thanked her, skipped the modifications, and took the cup over to my seat by the window. I took one sip, and let me tell you, it was everything any true coffee-lover could possibly desire. The fragrance was sweet and savory, while the flavor was nutty and fruity with a trace of asperity. I had only read and responded to one email before I realized my cup was empty.
I looked at my watch; I still had plenty of time before my interview, so I took my mug to the counter for a refill.
The comely barista took away my mug and handed me a clean one filled with her unique steamy brew. She didn’t warn me that it was hot, but she warned me nonetheless, “Be careful sir, that’s your second cup of our Lifeblood blend…after three you’ll be hopelessly addicted.”
“Can an addict be more addicted?” I laughed.
We chuckled together and I returned to my computer. This time I became engrossed in some social media flame-war and when I again checked the time, I noticed that I only had about ten minutes or so to walk down the two or three city blocks to my interview. I quickly stashed my computer into my briefcase and drained the last of my coffee.
I left my mug on the table reaching out for the front door, and then I heard the charming barista call out to me, “Sir? Would you like a cup for the road? It’s on the house.”
‘Free coffee?’ I thought, ‘I can’t pass that up,’ but as I turned and approached the counter that third time, a feeling came over me like I wasn’t in control of my faculties. It was as if my arm was on a string like a wooden marionette when I accepted the paper cup with a plastic lid and raised it to my lips. While I performed this motion like an automaton, I noticed several other customers in the shop at the high counter and sitting at various booths…and all of them were staring at me as if in anticipation of something dreadfully exciting.
Suddenly a rush of vertigo hit me like a tempest and I was free to act on my own. Instinctively I dropped the to-go cup on the floor of the shop and ran to the door, but to my chagrin I took one last glance back before my foot hit the sidewalk. Oh how I wish that I hadn’t, because the customers’ faces revealed the filthy rot of the undead and every mouth was agape with vampire fangs! The voluptuous black-haired barista’s now twisted smile also sported a pair of gleaming daggers between her blood-red lips and she licked one of them with a glistening forked tongue.
Needless to say I ran faster than I had ever run in my entire life. I ducked into the building where I would soon have my interview, and breathing heavily, I peered out the glass door to see if I had been followed. Thank the stars that I didn’t see any vampire spawn on the street!
As I continued my lookout, a woman’s voice came from behind me uttering the exact same words the barista banshee had asked me an hour before, “Sir, can I help you?”
I turned around to see another quite attractive young woman sitting at a reception desk, but this time she was fair-haired and pale. I quit my reconnoitering so as not to look paranoid and straightened my tie. ‘Perhaps I had an allergic reaction or there was some kind of drug in that cursed coffee,’ I reasoned in an effort to calm myself as I approached her desk.
As I got closer, I saw that she wore a plunging flowery yellow dress with a red silk scarf, and I was now thoroughly convinced that nineteen-seventy’s fashions were back in full force. I looked at my watch saying, “Ma’am, I have an interview in five minutes.”
She took my name and made a call to check if her manager was ready to see me, “Sir, he’ll be down in about five or ten minutes. If you’d like to take a seat in the lobby, there’s coffee and doughnuts in there.”
I shook my head, “No, no, I don’t need any more coffee. In fact, I think I’ll never drink it again after what happened to me this morning.”
She frowned, “That’s sad, because we always buy the best premium blends for our guests and visitors. In fact, for the last week or so I’ve been getting my boss his favorite Lifeblood Almond expresso from Nosferatu’s Coffeehouse down the street.”
When those words were uttered, my blood ran cold. ‘Her boss drinks the stuff?’ I shivered as my mind raced, ‘That’s the very same man interviewing me!’ As this chilling notion rattled my brain, I noticed that the receptionist’s silk scarf had fallen down from around her neck plainly revealing two tiny perforations along her carotid artery!
Once again I fled. During my protracted and dreadful flight, I couldn’t help but see the many malevolent eyes of suspicious strangers’ glares on the streets, and on the subway, and even on the bus ride to my home in the suburbs. Obviously I didn’t get that job, nor did I ever again step foot in that accursed coffeehouse, but still more, I swore to the heavens that I would never again sip that seductively bitter witch’s brew!