A short story inspired by urban legends from Japan.
by Magdalen Cochran
Alex eyed the cafe from across the street as she puffed the last of her cigarette. Margeux’s Cafe was on the corner of Fourth and Monroe, right across from the old Whiteside theatre. It had large open windows and through them she could see people sitting at small tables, drinking coffee and enjoying the free bandwidth. She frowned. The patrons looked clean cut and rich. The place stunk of the Junior League and PTA meetings. For a moment she regretted wearing her black jacket with studs in the shoulders. But quickly shrugged it off as she realized that a different jacket wasn’t going to conceal her tattoos, her earrings, or her flamingo pink hair. So fuck it. she thought. Then she spotted Maya sitting in the window. She saw her too and gave a big goofy wave. Jesus, she looks exactly the same. Alex thought as she stubbed out her cigarette and crossed the street. Maya’s long brown hair was pulled back with a cute headband, she wore a blue Rainbow Brite t-shirt and a pink plaid skirt with white shoes. Alex thought she even remembered this outfit from high school. Maya had emailed her a couple weeks ago, asking to get coffee and catch up.
She pushed open the door to Margeux’s and Maya bounded up her squealing. “Hey! Oh my gosh, I can’t believe it’s really you!” She threw her arms around her and Alex countered with kind of patient smile one would give a hysterical puppy. From far away, she really had looked like the same eighteen year old girl who she had graduated with. Now she could see the age much better. She was rounder, with a few subtle wrinkles just beginning to form around her mouth. But overall Maya was the same manic ray of sunshine she had always been. She spun in place, “I wore this outfit so you would recognize me,” she said and her eyes grew wide, “Wow, your hair is so short!” Alex ran her fingers self consciously through her shock of pink hair. “Yeah, it was longer back then. I think had it black for graduation.” Maya nodded in agreement as the two women walked back to the table where Maya had been sitting.
Alex sat down in the chair and unconsciously crossed her arms. She could tell Maya came here a lot, the barista had swirled a Hello Kitty into her latte foam. Alex had taken off right after graduation, moved to Portland and never looked back. Maya had stayed in their hometown and it showed. They couldn’t look more different and Alex thought they probably looked really strange sitting together. Alex was brooding and volatile, but Maya didn’t care. She never let anything pop her bubble of optimism and even though she was the squeaky clean princess type, Alex had to respect that she never seemed to judge people.
The two chatted for a while. Maya worked for the local Humane Society and sold handmade crafts online. Alex told her about her singing with Mi-go Love, a horror themed Rock band that had been touring up and down the West coast. Maya nodded excitedly as she blew on her latte, “Yeah, that’s why I picked this place.” she said with a grin. Alex paused and looked around the chic little cafe, it looked like the inside of any Starbucks. She looked back at Maya dubiously and stifled a laugh. Her companion blinked innocently, “Oh you haven’t heard about it?” then she gave an indulgent smile as if she was about to impart some juicy gossip. She leaned in closely, “It’s haunted.” she said. Now Alex really did laugh. She couldn’t tell if she thought it was cute that Maya was naïve enough to believe a ghost haunted a coffee shop, or just sad that her life had turned out so boring.
Maya waved her hands quickly, dismissing her skepticism.
“No I’m being totally serious! It’s true!” she said.
“This place is haunted, huh? Is the coffee really that bad?” Alex said and laughed again.
Maya smiled but looked at her pleadingly. Alex suddenly felt bad for teasing her and gave an apologetic nod.
“Okay, okay. So what, it’s like a disgruntled employee or something?”
“Oh no, nothing like that. It’s the ghost of someone’s twin.” Maya said quietly.
Alex was surprised. She had expected something more hokey.
“Well that’s the thing, no one knows. They say the living twin never even knew she had a sister. But because they’re twins, the girl’s spirit is stuck somewhere between the living and the dead.”
“…So now she haunts a coffee shop?” Alex had recovered a bit of her snarky confidence. But admittedly the story was not what she had expected.
Maya shrugged. “That’s what they say. I come here a lot and every once in a while I’ll see someone go white like-…”
“Like they’ve seen a ghost?” Alex finished.
Alex studied her for a moment. She thought Maya was probably the type of girl who read her horoscope in the paper. One who might see a palm reader or talk to you about your aura. But a pang of guilt struck her at this thought. Maya had been the only person from school who bothered to get in touch, and Alex thought she could probably stand not being such a bitch to her.
Maya sipped her coffee, carefully avoiding the Hello Kitty design. She put her cup down on the saucer and that’s when Alex noticed the distinct lack of clink. She paused for a moment. Looking around she saw people were tapping away and laptops, talking on phones, chatting with friends… and she couldn’t hear any of it. She put her finger in her ear and shook, thinking the last concert may have really done in her hearing. Nothing. Alex suddenly realized she was cold. The sun was shining outside, but inside the small cafe the world felt icy, even through her jacket. She was becoming concerned. Am I getting sick? she wondered. Maya seemed blissfully unaware that Alex couldn’t hear her and she continued to chatter away. Alex was about to interrupt her when she saw it.
There was a doorway at the other end of the cafe. A pale figure stood partly obscured by the frame, but Alex could see clearly it was a woman. The world seem to be going on around her in perfect silence. Maya was still talking, idly looking out the window. People came and went as usual. No one seemed to notice the young woman watching Alex from the doorway. She stared back, rooted in place. Her ears began to ring and her heart thudded in her chest. She could see half the girl’s face, her shoulder, and one thin arm that rested at her side. Slowly, the figure began to move into the doorway. A violent chill ran up Alex’s body as she watched the figure move. It was slow and unnatural like she was walking underwater. She looked like she was wearing a shapeless white dress or smock and dark hair drifted out behind her as she moved. The figure fluctuated between swimming through the air and sudden jerky movements that made Alex feel seasick. She stared frantically at Maya, hoping her expression of fear might prompt her stop talking, to look behind her…to see what Alex was seeing. But Maya was still oblivious despite she was looking straight at her now. Everyone in the room seemed unfazed. Whatever was happening was happening to Alex alone. She looked back to the figure who was now only a few feet away. Alex reared back so far in her seat she almost toppled over, but found that’s all she could do. She was paralyzed with fear and the ringing in her ears was getting louder.
The figure came forward with unblinking eyes. Alex’s mind was a flurry of panicked thoughts, but one realization pierced through the static. The figure looked like… Maya. The eyes were dead and lacked any glimmer of consciousness, but they were Maya’s eyes; her small nose, her round face. As she moved toward the table, in that hideously unnatural way, Alex realized the girl was not looking at her at all. The figure turned her gaze to her companion. She knelt beside her, watching her mouth words and gesture absentmindedly. Alex could see the girl’s feet were bare, and didn’t cast a shadow on the tile floor. the girl crouched there for a moment, stroking Maya’s hair and face. The ringing was so loud now Alex couldn’t think. Her hands and feet had gone numb and the seasickness was coming in nauseating waves. She was sure if she had to endure much more that she’d pass out completely.
All of the sudden the girl’s face was transformed. It twisted violently as if she was screaming, but no sound came out. She stood and slammed her hands down on the table which didn’t budge an inch. Her arm flung out wildly at the coffee cup but it passed right through. She stood still for a moment, her head bowed, shoulders heaving. The girl brought her frail little hands to the sides of her head and began to cry. Dark locks of hair whipped through the air as she shook her head. As she did, the cafe started to move and sway along with her. Alex clung to the table as it rocked back and forth. The ear-splitting ring was deafening now, it seems to radiate outward from the girl who was howling in impotent rage in front of her. Alex finally lost control and toppled out of the chair onto the undulating tile floor. Her stomach lurched and she tried not to vomit. But the movement suddenly stopped. Alex looked up to see the girl had stopped screaming, the fall from the chair had grabbed her attention and now she was looking straight at Alex. Her breath caught in her throat and Alex scrambled backward- colliding with the counter. It was her eyes that scared her the most. The irises were so big that she looked like a life-sized doll. The girl knelt again, swam through the air toward her on all fours. She brought her wide, unblinking eyes within a few inches of Alex’s terrified face and then opened her mouth. Her jaw dropped downward in a sickening way that was far too wide for the her small face. She was going to swallow her whole… and Alex was too deaf and sick from the mere closeness of her to do anything except watch it happen. The girl took one white hand and grabbed Alex’s arm.
“…Alex?” a small distant voice said.
Alex was back in her seat. The ringing faded and the gentle hum of the bustling cafe was back. The figure was gone. She blinked and looked down to see Maya was gently touching her arm.
“Are you okay, hon? You kind of space out there for a moment.” she said with a worried smile.
The nausea had subsided and the feeling had come back into her limbs. Alex stared at her for a moment, trying to find the words to describe what had just happened. But it was useless. She got up from her chair and hurried out of the cafe and down the block. Maya could only sit at the table exchanging awkward glances with the other patrons who had watched Alex flee the building.