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"Worms and Coffee" — Poe Contest Winning Essay

Created date

July 13th, 2009

The swamp road snaked ahead, thick with crooked limbs dripping long, silvery beards of Spanish moss. The battered Chevy plowed ponderously through a curtain of a suffocating predawn fog. The radio crackled low, incomprehensible noise lost to the silent man. Amber dash lights cast a jaundiced glow on beard-stubbled skin. Road-weary, but wired with anticipation and caffeine, he d been driving all night. In the loamy darkness, an eerie beacon of light radiated. The skeleton of a building emerged, windows lighted, beckoning warmth and comfort. He pulled the truck toward the light. He parked in the halo of a sputtering neon sign. A bizarre message burned against a fly-speckled window. Worms and Coffee. Reckon I could use some bait. His own voice jarred the heavy air, startling him back into consciousness. The door jangled open, announcing his arrival. Inside the bright, cluttered little store, the air was infused with an intoxicating combination of fresh-brewed coffee, bitter almonds, and Shalimar. He was drawn helplessly into the center of memory. The images the tangled scents evoked paralyzed his sense of confidence and caution. His eyes searched the corners of the room for a restroom or an escape exit. The men s room s out back. Wanna cup of joe? A sultry voice called from behind a row of glittering coffeepots. He caught a glimpse of a perfect silhouette just outside of his peripheral vision. A mane of luxurious auburn waves tumbled down the shapely back turned toward him. She moved like a shadow among the refrigerated shelves. His eyes would not focus. Underneath the perfumed air, he could detect the faintest odor of something he could not name. It sat on the back of his tongue, dark and fetid. He was unable to speak or form a thought. Faraway, his mind screamed. You here to fish? Got the finest bait this side of heaven. She pointed to rows and rows of glass jars, writhing with blind, nebulous creatures captured and buried in their own slime. He gravitated toward her and the velvety tone of her words. She gestured toward a steaming mug of coffee, her face hidden beneath her curls. He raised the cup to his lips. The black liquid steamed chicory, brown sugar, and bitter almond into his brain. My bait s homegrown, right here, in a special garden out yonder. She sidled toward the backdoor, her magnificent hair winking at him. Coffee s my own too. Call it Back to the Earth blend. Starbucks has nothin to touch it. The first cup is always on the house. Back here s the facilities. He drank deeply. Like her, it took his breath away. His face blossomed red, a strangled smile on his lips. He staggered toward her and collapsed. She dragged his body outside. The baitworms churned in anticipation. She placed him gently in the compost bin, built deep in the ground for speedy composition. Fishermen came for miles to buy her wares and sometimes drink her special blend of coffee. Business was good.