Jay B. Gaskill
Welcome to the Lost Souls Coffee Shop, located somewhere near the Canada/US border - where storytellers come to tell their tales. Few know how to get there and fewer are invited. Join Stranger, Origin, Bit, Byte & Bitch along with others as they recount their favorite stories.
My name doesn’t matter. Just call me Stranger. You’ll see why soon enough.
I want you to imagine ice fog twinkling and dancing around a streetlamp and that you are standing right outside the front door. You have found an urban legend, a single building right out of the small town 1920’s, parked in the epicenter of Nowhere, North America: The Lost Souls Coffee House.
Some urban legends just don’t exist. Others simply can’t be found. But there is a third category. I should know.
It all started with a cryptic note left on my motel bed stand, in my own handwriting. As a result, I became enthralled by the lingering spell of a dream. I was so obsessed by my note that I burned several vacation days in search of the Lost Souls Coffee Shop. This place was a classic urban myth - no address, invisible to all GPS devices, unreachable without an invitation, a place that reportedly attracts storytellers, sometimes fatally. But all searches must come to an end. Having only three vacation days left, I gave up my search on a Friday morning.
Night had fallen that Friday afternoon soon after the premature northern sunset. A low, chill wind was sweeping the sidewalk and I was tucking my parka a bit tighter around my neck when I heard a gravelly voice call to me. “Hey! I’m talkin’ to you.” Startled, I turned to look over my shoulder. The voice was from an antique taxicab parked at the curb outside Bitter Earl’s Pub. “I hear yah need a ride to Lost Souls.” I walked over, bent down and peered into the unlit interior. The driver was a smoke-shrouded figure wearing a film noir felt hat.
“I do,” I said. “Can you can really take me there?”
“Get in,” he said.
The ride took us past all the streets, past the all the lights and all the houses, far out of town. We traversed a foggy prairie on an obscure, ice covered road to nowhere. Eventually, the cab stopped under a single pole. Overhead, two lonely street lamps glowed faintly in their ice fog cocoons. The engine rattled, the heater whirred and the driver stared stolidly ahead. Through the fogged car window, I could make out a single building, a brick storefront with dark, inset windows and a single door. It was the kind of thing you might see on an old town corner, but without the corner, and without the town.
“I take it we’ve arrived?” I was in the back seat behind a grated barrier.
“You’ll need a ride back,” he said.
“Okay. Can I call you?” I asked.
“Not possible. Just pick a time.”
I looked at my watch. “Say, midnight?”
“Fine,” he growled. “Cash, only.” Not another sound came from him until I slammed the passenger door and began reaching for my wallet. From the shadows, I heard, “We’ll settle up later - if they let yah go.”
I had been wondering whether this would be my only visit to the Lost Souls Coffee House, but it hadn’t occurred to me until that moment that I might not be able to get back at all. The battered old taxi had pulled away from the driveway, its tires spitting mud and snow. And I was left staring at a weathered door with frost-scarred glass, dimly lit from within.
The front door opened easily, followed by a rush of warm air. I was standing inside a tiny foyer in the glow from an old fashioned overhead lamp, facing a row of coat hooks and a small table with a “Sign-in” slate.
I could hear muffled laughter from behind the interior door. I shook my coat, hung it and studied the House Rules sign posted next to the coat hooks.
- Sign in with your username. (First timers - make one up.)
- The management (DNA to you) reserves the right to open or close this establishment at any time, to welcome or exclude you or anyone else on a whim.
- Electronic devices don’t work in this space. Why? Don’t ask.
- Have a seat anywhere you can manage without a fight.
- Be sure and sign out when you leave. NO EXCEPTIONS.
- Your secrets are safe here but your stories will belong to us.
- No refunds, ever.
Next I studied the Sign-in slate. Seven names were listed, all time-stamped. The most recent four were, “Bit”, “Byte” and “Bitch”, followed close-on by the arrival of “Mystery Man”.
I decided to sign in as Stranger. As soon as I wrote my entry name with the e-stylus, the door to the main room opened. The fragrance of coffee and of an old fashioned fire poured through. Reassured, I dismissed my misgivings and stepped into the main room.
The chatter of voices suddenly fell silent. For an uncomfortable moment, all seven guests and DNA, the proprietor, looked up at me. Then everyone looked at the wall behind me. I followed their gaze. The entire Sign-in list was reproduced on a wall screen, including me, ‘Stranger’. The spell was broken and the conversational ripple quickly resumed.
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