Aaron R. Davis
The brightness and beauty of the day didn’t register with Marty McElroy. Such things were beneath his notice, as were the various pleasantries of. As long as he hadn’t had his coffee, it wasn’t within his power to be polite.
The trek to McDonald’s for coffee every morning was no longer a ritual: it was a full-blown addiction that he was powerless to resist. In his mind, this was something for people to accept and simply accommodate. Sure, he was rude, unapologetic, even abhorrent about his slavery to the demon bean, but he assumed — wrongly — that people were understanding about his pathetic personal weakness and casual arrogance.
“Not before I’ve had my coffee,” was his constant reply to anything said to him. “Not until I’ve had my coffee.” No listening, just the automatic reply of his douchey voice: “I haven’t had my coffee,” as though it were an acceptable answer to a nicely-offered “Good morning” or a sincere “Beautiful day we’re having.” Marty didn’t care: he needed the warm shower of caffeine to slake his throat before he could pretend to be a human being for the day.
And so, with frustrated annoyance in his heart, he walked into his local McDonald’s, set to confront anyone who dared ask him a question.
The girl behind the counter began: “Can I interest you in —”
“Not before I’ve had my coffee,” he interrupted, on autopilot.
“… premium roast coffee?” the girl finished, affecting amusement but inwardly counting the seconds until her shift was over.
“Talk to me,” Marty answered, as though he didn’t do this everyday, unwilling to buy a coffeemaker of his own because it meant slightly less sleep, and slightly less of a sense of direction. Walking to the McDonald’s fooled him into believing his mornings were constructive, before wasting the rest of the day working on his useless philosophy major.
“No, I don’t think she will, sir,” came a voice. Marty looked over to see the reedy, unimposing, overly-aggressive figure of the McDonald’s shift manager, headset on as though he was directing an Oscar telecast and not slinging disgusting hash to rubes too lazy to make their own breakfasts. “We reserve the right to reject service to customers, sir, and your rudeness just put you in the ‘rejected’ category.”
Marty, his brain not sparked with the caffeine he craved, had trouble registering what was going on. “Come again?”
“No coffee for you, pal,” the manager told him, a martinet drunk on the tiny bit of power the world had given him. “Take your attitude somewhere else.”
Marty, crushed, actually whimpered: “But … my coffee … I haven’t had …”
But his plea was in vain. Outside he went, dejected and unfocused, his heart beating its normal rhythm instead of the coffee-enhanced samba that made it so much easier for Marty to waste his parents’ tuition money on nonsense.
“Hey, man!” a voice cried out. “Had your coffee, Marty? It’s time for a FLUTE SOLO!”
Marty shivered involuntarily as one of his classmates, Scrotie Erickson, started walking over, wearing the same damn hippie sweater he wore every day. Marty and Scrotie got along, but Marty found Scrotie hard to deal with before his morning coffee. Scrotie was always carrying his flute around, but he couldn’t really play it, and Marty found Scrotie’s hair — short, but somehow completely unkempt and shaggy — irrationally off-putting.
“Not now, Scrotie,” Marty grumbled, dejected. “I still haven’t had my coffee.”
“Why not, man?” Scrotie asked.
“Something about my attitude.” Marty struggled to remember without the coffee stimulating his corpuscles. “Rudeness. I don’t know. I need my damn coffee.”
“Why not come over with me to Burger King?” Scrotie asked. “They have breakfast over there. Can you believe it? Who gets breakfast at a place called Burger King?”
“Um, lots of people do, Scrotie,” Marty said with an air of direct condescension instead of his usual casual condescension. “They’ve had those horrid breakfast sandwiches and French toast sticks for years. Why are we supposed to be surprised now?”
“Dude, they got breakfast bowls,” Scrotie said, as though that were explanation enough. “FLUTE SOLO!”
“No, goddammit!” Marty pleaded. “And don’t make me think of those bowls. The contents of those bowls look like they’ve been eaten once already. It’s like cow vomit in a dish. That’s not worth a flute solo. Not that you can play the flute …”
“I can too!” Scrotie protested.
“Please,” Marty said, working up a stream of righteous anger. “Look, Anchorman was seven years ago: all of the humor value of the flute has been completely exhausted. You’re not funny, and your attempts to play the flute one-handed are just pathetic. No one likes your damned flute!”
Scrotie swallowed his hurt feelings, centering himself in that irritating hippie way he had, ready to forgive. “You know what’ll make you feel better, dude?”
“Not before I’ve had my coffee.”
“You know what I’m going to say, don’t you?” Scrotie pressed.
Marty’s eyes felt like they were going to explode out of his skull. “Scrotie, I’m serious … my coffee …”
“Say it with me, Marty …”
“Fuck no, Scrotie, don’t you do it …”
And before Marty could get out the curse that rose from the pit of his empty stomach, Scrotie got down on his knees, put his flute to his lips and raised an arm up to the heavens to offer the world a flute solo of such magnificence that the angels themselves would weep to hear it. At least, that’s how he always imagined it. In reality, it was a series of unconnected notes — tones, really — that flew out of his ham-fisted attempt to play the flute with only one hand.
He sounded like a four-year old mashing piano keys. But the flute equivalent.
Marty began to shake. His skeleton, his psyche and his muscles all seemed to be vibrating at different speeds. The loud, sharp whistles of an idiotic flute serenade pierced his brain like icicles falling into snowdrifts.
It was too much for Marty: Scrotie, whose family had not done him favors by indulging his eccentricities and his unearned, overinflated self-esteem, blowing out his pops and whistles, that stupid look on his face as though he were the most clever and amusing man in the world … without coffee, Marty could no longer stand his classmate.
So he rose up, pulled the flute away and, without thinking, brought it down onto Scrotie’s skull.
Scrotie recoiled in pain, but Marty, propelled forward by a frustration and madness brought on by an overpowering, unsated addiction, was on top of Scrotie too quickly for the scruffy little hippie to crawl away. Marty kicked and smashed and brought the flute down again and again, screaming at the top of his lungs: “NOT BEFORE I’VE HAD MY COFFEE!” Blood began to fly, and soon sinew, and finally there was a satisfying crack of ribcage, and Marty, his vision blurred and his head spinning, backed off. He had planted the flute in Scrotie’s dead heart, and stood there now, staring at what he had done, barely comprehending, tasting bile and not the coffee he so craved.
A voice penetrated his clouded brain: “Step away and put your hands up, son.”
“Heh,” Marty sardonically chuckled. “Imagine that. A cop getting coffee at McDonald’s.”
“Look, son,” the veteran police officer said, his gun drawn, “I understand. I’m a bear in the morning without my coffee. Why don’t you turn around, put up your hands and let me take you to the station? We’ve got coffee there.”
“Then why are you here?” Marty asked. Marty was the kind of person who, even with his life threatened, would seize on seeming logical inconsistencies to make himself seem smarter than he was. It was his replacement for his dullard personality.
“Well, the coffee here is better,” the cop admitted.
Marty looked down at Scrotie’s corpse; the flute standing straight up in the body made Scrotie look like some kind of cyborg that had thrown a rod.
“Can I have your coffee?” Marty whispered, the desperation in his voice apparent.
“Just come with me now, son. You’re in a lot of trouble.”
Marty started to breathe harder. And harder. His arm hurt, and he suddenly felt like he had to go to the bathroom. His vision tunneled and, with all his strength, he grabbed the flute and turned on his heel, his hips swiveling, his teeth bared as he screamed “NOT BEFORE I’VE —”
And, in a hail of gunfire, it was over.
Marty fell back, landing on Scrotie’s still-warm body, the flute hitting the pavement with a crack, the reed splitting, the spit-valve filled with blood.
Marty weakly inhaled. “… had … my … coff …” The word died on his lips, drifting away as darkness swirled around him, his pointless, hurried life over.
Not too many people cared. They carried on with their lives, wishing well and bidding good morning to people who would return their niceties politely. Scrotie’s death, like the deaths of most hippies, went completely unnoticed.
And, though they knew nothing of these proceedings, the advertising people behind the terrible McDonald’s and Burger King ad campaigns felt a sudden sorrow that became a full-blown depression. In an amazing coincidence, they all died while performing autoerotic asphyxiation while masturbating.
Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.