Figures my damn alarm clock would die on me the day I've got a presentation with the senior partners. I woke up half an hour late because instead of the weather report, it was spouting out nothing but static. I'm still cursing it with every fiber of my being while I walk to work, wishing I was awake enough to get a proper jog going. But then again, I'd probably just sweat and not get there any faster, and nervous-guy-with-pit-stains isn't the impression I want to make today.
Goddamn alarm clock. I wipe a hand down my face, trying to remember what was on the first cue card I wrote up last night. Is that me that smells like McDonald's? When did I last have this suit dry cleaned? Did I pack the flash drive with my presentation? Crap. Crap, crap, crapcrapcrap--
Digging into my briefcase, I slam into the shoulder of a woman walking down the street. It's hard enough to hurt, but she doesn't say a thing. "Sorry!" I call over my shoulder as I keep walking. She doesn't even look my way. Her head's tipped sideways, and she's walking like...eh, she's probably drunk. Who gets drunk at 7:40 in the morning? This used to be a decent neighborhood.
I still can't tell what smells like McDonald's, and everything's jostled around in my briefcase. I check my watch - still twenty minutes until I need to be in the conference room. Thank God. I cross the street - no traffic this morning, weirdly - and step into the Starbucks. A jolt of something with espresso in it will help me focus.
It is damn near empty in here - no line, one guy slumped at a table by the door, a couple of teenage employees shuffling around aimlessly behind the counter. They don't even make eye contact as I step up to the counter. Where's the work ethic? Where's the pride in a job well done? This generation, Christ. Bunch of zombies. The place doesn't even have its patented draw-you-in-with-the-aroma-of-
"Excuse me," I call, drumming my fingers against the counter. One of the baristas, a tiny Latina girl with disheveled hair, turns toward me. Her eyes are glassy, and I can't tell if she's high on something or just really completely checked out. "I need a venti caramel macchiato," I tell her, fishing in my pocket for cash. "Skim milk. Triple shot, at least."
The girl scowls at me and grumbles something under her breath.
"Excuse me?" I repeat, sharper, leaning over the counter and looking her in the eye.
The barista screws up her mouth really tight, then all of a sudden her voice explodes out of her, bigger than I would've thought possible for a girl that size. It bowls me over backward, grasping at my suitcase. I can't understand a word of it. The girl shouts gibberish, leaping up on the counter, chucking hard syllables and chocolate covered coffee bean packs at me. The other workers don't even move. I scramble backwards and scoot out of reach of her projectiles, under a table. Bags of gourmet coffee smack against the tabletop, and grounds rain down a few inches from my head.
"Help!" I shout. "She's gone crazy!"
"He's fine," says the guy at the next table over. His voice is a little flat, with an accent I don't recognize, and I barely hear it over the barista's surprisingly deep bellowing. The guy glances at me over the lip of his paper, which is from yesterday. He's got the same dead eyes as everyone else in the place, but he's smiling slightly.
"He?" I say, not knowing how else to answer.
"Búri," says the guy.
The barista sounds like she's swearing. She's started rattling the cash register.
The guy at the next table gives me a dull look. "'I am Búri, begetter of Borr, begetter of Odin. I am born from the ice of the void. My might shakes mountains. I do not fetch beverages for mortals in cheap suits.' You don't listen very well, do you?" When he catches my eye, I can see into the depths of him - nothing but darkness and deadness all the way down.
My throat feels like it's closing up, I fish in my pocket and pull out my cell phone. My hands have started to shake so badly it's hard to dial 9-1-1. I press the phone tight against my ear and listen as the other end of the line rings.
The barista rips the register from the counter with a screech and throws it on the floor, kicking so hard the sound echoes through the cafe.
"World ended while you were out, friend," says the dead man at the table. "Best wake up."
The edge of my phone digs into my cheek so hard I can feel it bruising. "I was trying," I manage to say. "Need coffee for that."
The dead man at the table shakes his head and goes back to the newspaper. His eyes don't move as he reads - or stares, or whatever he's doing. In my ear, the other end of the line rings and rings and rings.