Coffee Fiend by Aeryn Rudel

Bradley is on the register for my shift. He’s the best-looking guy at Coffin Coffee. Dark skin, deep voice, and a lean, athletic build. If I didn’t have work to do, I’d consider a hook-up. I’ve seen the glances he throws my way. Alas, duty calls.

The first customer through the door is a garden-variety Karen. She’s decked out in tacky designer shit covered in labels or logos, so everyone knows she’s carrying a Fendi bag and wearing Prada slides. She orders a latte, skim milk, extra foam.

Bradley passes the cup, and I pull the shots and steam the milk. It all goes in, along with a tiny drop of blood from the pinprick on my thumb. I scoop foam out of the frothing pitcher onto the latte and draw the symbol with an iron needle. The squiggly mark of Astaroth is complex—lots of crosses and weird angles. It’s a pain, but Astaroth grants monetary boons, and I’m short on rent.

I call out the name scribbled in silver Sharpie on Coffin Coffee’s trademark black cup. “Cynthia. Skim latte, extra foam.”

Cynthia collects her drink, takes a sip, and Astaroth claims her soul. She doesn’t know that yet, of course. She’ll find out when she dies unless a priest performs an exorcism first. Cynthia doesn’t strike me as the church-going type, though.

The next three customers order black coffee, which Bradley serves himself. I respect folks who don’t go for the fancy stuff. They can keep their souls.

I get a two-fer next. Young couple, all over each other in that fawning new love kinda way. Gross. They order stock-standard lattes. They both get the symbol of Halphas. I need new furniture, and building shit is Halphas’ admittedly odd domain. The double dip should get me a bedroom set.

The next three lattes all get Baal’s sigil. He’s my patron, and for every five souls I send his way, I don’t age for a month. I’ve been twenty-five for about seventeen years now.

I take my break at noon with Bradley. He invites me outside for a smoke, and I gladly follow. He’s even more beautiful in the sunlight. Chiseled jaw, large expressive eyes, and sensual lips. It takes a lot to turn me on these days, but Bradley does the trick. I decide I need more Bradley in my future, but business comes first.

“Hey, I really love the stuff you draw in the foam,” Bradley says right before our break ends. “Where do you come up with that?”

I take pains to hide my “art,” lidding up before anyone can see it. That Bradley spied it tells me he’s been watching me. It makes me nervous. “Oh, you know. I just make shit up.”

“I think it’s real cool.” He gives me that shy, disarming smile that turns up the heat in my admittedly neglected nether regions, and I conclude he’s just flirting and doesn’t really know what’s going on.

We go back to work, and I take my place at the espresso counter. I serve another four lattes—two souls for Amon, one for Furfur, and another for Baal. It would have been five, but the fifth customer is wearing the sigil of Adramelech around her neck on an iron chain. I give her a nod, make the proper sign, and she responds in kind. Her latte is strictly milk, espresso, and unadorned foam. Professional courtesy, you know.

I’m nearing the end of my shift, and I want a few more souls under my belt. A guy comes in, business type, suit, expensive haircut, designer shoes. He orders a pumpkin spice latte, and I take the gloves off. Mr. Pumpkin Spice is going straight to Marbas. He’s a real motherfucker, even for a demon. He doesn’t just claim souls, he gives the damned a terrible disease to speed up the process.

Bradley takes a second to slide the cup my way, and I start getting impatient. Finally, I get the cup, steam the milk, add the espresso and blood, then heap a generous portion of foam on top. “Hope you like it real fucking spicy,” I whisper and start to draw the symbol of Marbas.

Before I’m halfway finished with the symbol, the coffee explodes in my face.

The pain is instant and searing, and my own screams rise above the alarmed shouts of everyone in the store. I grab a wet bar towel and press it to my face. I hear someone scream “Call 911!”

Through the blinding agony, I pray to Baal, promising more souls if he shows me the motherfucker who did this to me.

I sit in the ambulance, burn ointment all over my face. The paramedic says I have only first-degree burns and I shouldn’t scar. It hurts, but not as bad as it could. Baal is providing me a little infernal analgesic. My manager, a pudgy, balding guy named Scott Monroe approaches, a forlorn look on his face.

“I uh, hope you’re gonna be okay,” Maynard says. “But I need you to fill out an accident report.”

Before I can tell Scott to get royally fucked, something occurs to me. “Bring me the cup. The one that burned me.”

“I don’t know—”

I clench the talisman of Baal beneath my shirt. “Bring it!” The talisman adds demonic power to my voice, and Scott scurries away. He returns with Mr. Pumpkin Spice’s aborted drink.

I turn the cup over, and there, drawn in silver sharpie, is a symbol that sends quakes of revulsion through my body. The swooping angelic symbol is one I recognize—Raguel, Angel of Justice.

Could Mr. Pumpkin Spice have drawn it? No, he never touched the cup . . .

I see Bradley leaning against the doorway of Coffin Coffee. He’s toying with a golden medallion on a silver chain. He smiles at me, wide, and his teeth are as perfect as the rest of him. Perfect, unflawed, angelic.

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