You don’t have to believe me. I’m just telling you what happened. I was sitting in my usual chair at ‘The Higher Ground’, one of Calgary’s nicer coffee houses, doing some writing and sketching, looking forward to a nice evening of sipping coffee and basking in the pseudo-bohemian atmosphere that always seemed to fuel my artistic intentions.
Then I saw him. A small man sitting alone in the corner of the shop, the small table in front of him completely covered with empty coffee cups. His eyes darted back and forth and he trembled all over, obviously due to caffeine overload. A barista went over to the man and silently cleared away the cups just in time for a second coffee slinger to place a tray full of hot, steaming coffee in from of him. He took a sloshing full mug in his shaking, claw like hand and began to consume it without any relish or care for its taste; or scalding heat for that matter. I had seen enough. I gathered my sketchbook and coffee and slowly moved towards the man. Up close, he was a wreck. Thin to Auschwitz standards and pale, his oily hair plastered over his bony brow, the man didn’t acknowledge my presence until I sat down on a chair directly opposite him. He lowered his cup and looked at me in a pointed way that made me think he was on something stronger and more exotic than caffeine.
“What do you want?” He asked flatly, his flat brown eyes as expressionless as buttons.
“Nothing, but you’ve made me curious. What’s with all the coffee?” You remember that I’m well known for my directness and I had no difficulty asking questions that others might feel too nonplussed to ask. He narrowed his eyes at me but continued to drain each cup in short order.
“Is this some kind of performance art? If it is, it’s an interesting idea. Whose art sessions are you in? He looked at me as though I had asked to see naked pictures of his mother.
“I need to stay awake.” He finally said as he drained the last cup. He waved to one of the staff behind the counter and after making an incredulous face; she began to fill more cups.
“Oh, I get it. Exams. Got to cram all night, eh?” I privately thought that this explanation was impossible since exams weren’t for another month and who would voluntarily study this early?
“No Exams. I just need to stay awake. I’m performing an experiment.” He waited for the empty cups to be cleared away, and then picked up a fresh mug even before the young server set down the tray. She looked at him with a disbelieving frown and escaped behind the counter.
“I’m in Professor Lukas’ psychology class, if you must know.” He reluctantly admitted.
“What is it? Some kind of sleep deprivation experiment?” He nodded as he drained the cup and his free hand snaked out to grasp another.
“I haven’t slept in 128 days. Longer than anyone else in my class.” For the first time, some emotion crossed his face. It was a rather slack smile of pride.
“I’m trying to induce an altered state of consciousness using caffeine as the flux.” He explained, now seeming to want to talk in spite of his earlier taciturnity. “I believe that a massive dose of caffeine will stimulate the pineal gland and the midbrain, creating a controllable, malleable duct through which my consciousness can escape and allow me to effectively teleport to any location on Earth or the universe for that matter” As you can imagine I had categorized him as a lunatic as soon as he got to the word ‘teleport.’ I nodded in a humouring manner and prepared to leave this strange scarecrow of a man when he grasped my arm with surprising strength for all his jittery leanness.
“No. You must stay and see the culmination of the experiment. I’m almost ready. A few more doses of caffeine and I’ll know the truth! You’ll all know the truth.” He gurgled back the last few cups of coffee, draining every drop before setting the cups down. He sat back with his eyes closed and his shiny brow furrowed in deep concentration. His breathing became shallow and he became, if possible, paler than ever. An eerie silence fell over the occupants of the shop, as by now, everyone within earshot knew something weirder than usual was happening.
I sat back, trying to surreptitiously put some distance between him and me so dramatic were his gestures. I have to confess that I actually did expect him to teleport away or at least something as dramatic. What really happened was so bizarre, so outré that in recalling it, I have a hard time believing it myself.
What happened was this; He stiffened, his eyes opening wide with the expression of something going dreadfully wrong and he opened his mouth to scream. No sound came out of that mouth but as God is my witness, a sudden torrent of brown objects spewed out to rattle and spread across the floor.
His face and hands darkened to the colour of tree bark and he began to disintegrate. This is where it becomes hard to really remember. His body lost its shape and literally poured out of his ratty clothes to scatter over the polished linoleum. We all sat there frozen with disbelief and not a little horror. I got up and knelt over the granulated brown remains of the peculiar man. I scooped up a handful and let the smooth dark pellets run through my fingers.
They were coffee beans.