Sunday, November 9, 2008

Piece of Fiction: Light Cafes

I'm mostly a nonfiction guy - both in reading & writing - but sometimes I can't help myself from giving fiction a go. It's great at giving your mind a break from the world & letting your imagination take over. So I figured why not occasionally post some fiction on here.

So here's a fictional piece I recently wrote. It was distinctly inspired by 2 works: Richard K. Morgan's Altered Carbon, a hardcore sci-fi novel with flashes of film-noir; and Ernest Hemingway's (very) short story, A Clean Well-Lighted Place.

Posting fiction, should I feel inspired to write it again any time soon, probably won't be a regular thing. But hopefully reading it will give your mind a brief break from the real world just like writing it did for mine.

Light Cafes

I awoke with a headache the size of Jupiter. Light and sound splintered in like rubber dragging against pavement; like advertisements that repeat contact codes with no end; space explorers scraping on pieces of spontaneous forming fractal formations; believers going on about the code of god; jackknife blasters that won’t stop until they drive through earth’s edge. In the wake of a Metra coma I instinctively laid in the fetal position to cocoon my senses from the incoming day. Coffee was in due order, lots of cream, lots of sugar, and lots of coffee.

Heightened perception is the principal recreational attraction to Metra- dipping. During climax the user feels so connected to external stimuli that his inner self slips under the rug of consciousness unnoticed. The shine on clean tile floors, the glow of a power cord and cheap crack melody, the empty abyss of a toilet or vagina – it’s as if you’re one with everything in peripheral perception. It has a half-life of seven hours, but to the befuddlement of street pharmacists the subjective effects can last up to seventy-two. Mornings don’t quite resemble a come-down, so much as a returning of consciousness to the chaos of sensory overdrive; and with the soul back online, so to speak, the world recedes from its soft inclusive form of the previous day and takes on a sharp edginess – as if every corner and boundary of physicality threatened to slice you into pieces. During the early days of the infectious toxicology field there was mild debate as to whether or not these are aftereffects of the chemical proper, or if maybe the brain sequesters it in a corner untouched by normal blood pathways similar to some anaerobic neural-parasites. Since then the issue’s remained unresolved, relegated to textbook footnotes along with other historical oddities.

By the time I was staring into a mug of coffee – more like a bowl than a mug, and more like a swirling chocolate universe than coffee – my senses came to. Ray’s Sun Pies and Bottomless Coffee – sure the outfit was a bit cliché but something about it always appealed to a soft spot in me, and it was the perfect joint to get yourself out of a Metra coma. A combination of daily inconsequential minutia always somehow brought me to Ray’s a few times per week. Metra still firmly gripped my receptors. I glanced up from the circumference of my bowl o’ coffee. The café was dominated by blinding neon white light and petite servers with disproportionate chests decked in kinky black leather two-pieces. The sun leaked in, as if it were situated around the block, through panels of window displays distorted to magnify natural beams of light. To my unprotected eyes the whole damn place appeared flooded with artificial white light showering down from the ceiling and blinding nuclear sepia sunrays that ran more of a horizontal attack. Together they formed a sort of visual grid which seemed to say something about the nature of the universe.

Sometime in the past this was actually a pretty common setup for a café, the idea was that multiple sources of unsavory quantities of light complimented a morning dose of coffee and got you up and prepared for the daily grind. They say that, back in the day, the light was much stronger than at Ray’s, and light cafes, as they called them, spread in popularity. They were as effective and innocently addictive as coffee alone to the third power. But they fell out of flavor like any predictable trend, especially as physical commuting became a thing of the past in white-collar employment with neural-commuting, some types of which even allow you to work during your sleep.

“That and complaints from converted coffee junkies of irreversible retinal scaring,” Ray himself had once told me, summarizing his historical knowledge of the business.

“And the black two pieces - they supposed to get you up as well?” I had muttered in response on that morning still arising from a truncated stage six stupor.

“Yeah well,” a chuckle – or more like a grunt, “they’re supposed to get something up.”

So white-collar employees found new modalities to go to work, and light cafes emptied out, only occasionally frequented by construction workers with offbeat taste, oddball housewives or servant-bots, and conspirators, hacks or pimps who always seem to seep into abandoned corners of the world. Light cafes became gathering places for underworld cyberhacks who took a strange comfort in the atmosphere's anonymity, hid deep in the light, and in a twisted way took pleasure basking in the only hours of sun that their lifestyle afforded them.

Decades later places like Ray’s appealed to a natural nostalgia for times past. Sure the light was weaker so as to avoid undesirable retinal side effects, but it still proved novel to young eyes such as my own unfamiliar with trends so far past.

My pupils would've shrunken to pinholes to blunt the visual effect if not for the Metra which pulled them outward from their diameters, causing an awkward tension between my eyes and my brain, similar perhaps to what a starving earthling on Jupiter might feel should his antigravity generator gradually lose power. The ambient barrage of fork and plate clinking alone was enough to crack the feeble soul of a small mammal. But with the pinpoint aroma of burnt coffee and accompanying light it all surrendered to clicks of human clockwork that contained a mere trivial aura of annoyance.

“Refill mister?”

A glob of black reflective leather stood before me. I squinted until I made out the outline of feminine flesh blocking the light’s assault in the form of a pitch dark curvy silhouette. Bust, lips and jaw came into focus. She was chewing on a piece of gum as if the universe depended on it.

-KJ Sphere: Related Content


  1. I enjoyed it. You might consider writing more fiction.

  2. Glad to hear it was enjoyable! Fiction can be great, some movies have really changed the way I view the world. Every so often I'll get an idea for a story or something floating around in my mind, but then putting it in writing is a completely different thing - I always have difficulty striking a flow in writing. The flow with which a reader experiences isn't...always intuitive at start. But that's what makes great fiction pop, & it's just a question of practice practice on any writer's part.

  3. I've got three novels and a screenplay underway in various stages of completion. Starting is tough, finishing is even tougher.

    Accomplished writers all seem to say that you need to write at least a thousand words/day of fiction to reach any level of success. Gladwell's latest book claims that at least 10,000 hours of work is required to reach master status for any such skill.

  4. I've been taking improv classes for the past few months. I just decided to do it out of the blue. It's not so much comedy improv...although the skits/exercises are always ultimately funny, we're kind of aiming more for art. A related class is being offered for writers sometime, you might look into something like it. Not only does it teach you kind of to observe how people talk, but it gets into how real people genuinely change to make moving scenes. Plus it gets you to think laterally, which the more I think about is essential for creativity and life (something I've been thinking about a lot & will probably post more on)


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