The worn brickwork and exposed pipes adorning Legendary Comics and Coffee’s interior miraculously succeeded in making the long, narrow café feel homey instead of dank and dingy. The atmosphere was equal parts historical renovation and intentional steampunk design. This atmosphere was welcoming to the faithful customers who saw the shop more as a clubhouse than a lair for outsiders; just one of the many triumphs of planning and execution by the owners.
On nights such as this, when the monthly Awesomely Open Mic Nite event was in full swing, the room was stuffed with relaxed patrons sipping coffee. There were some who chose to stand towards the back. Their cluster spilled through the narrow ramped portal that led into the comic shop. Line of sight wasn’t of big importance to this crowd; most of those in attendance would eventually take the stage and very few came to play the role of spectator alone.
The stage was actually a cleared corner near the counter, underneath a framed image of a rampaging Hulk and situated next to a stack of mismatched PA equipment. Hovering above the solitary mic stand and utilitarian bar stool were two small directional lights. These cellophane filtered lamps were clamped to the exposed pipes overhead. The stage lights succeeded in effectively blinding the participant from the crowd’s visual reactions, as well as slow roasting them while they delivered their performance.
Behind the stage was the coffee bar, from which co-owner Wendy directed traffic and concocted java drinks of local renown. Assisted by a gaggle of hardworking baristas, Wendy rolled up her sleeves and made sure every customer left the café with only the highest impression. Seated at her counter was David, another of the shop’s three co-owners and emcee of the various event nights. From his seat of honor, David would play maestro by orchestrating the best order and variety of acts.
As the bodies arrived fashionably late to fill in any people sized holes in the room, the early shift was finishing up their ironic acoustic covers of eighties pop songs and slam poetry. The night was now in full swing, and David couldn’t have been happier. He had lobbied hard for this particular event. His partners were used to indulging his flights of fancy, but after Saturday Morning Cereal Bar and Ye Olde Tyme Pub Trivia Night failed to generate a satisfactory crowd they were hesitant to comply.
To David’s credit, the event was a smash hit from the first night. Open mic nights were nothing new to the city’s coffee shops, bars, and hookah dens but Legendary was the only successful one. One of the contributing factors to the monthly event’s success was a pair of reoccurring shticks that the crowd just adored. That is to say, that the crowd adored almost as much as hearing their own voices through the battered Peavey PA system.
These audience participation routines developed organically, evolving from the same tired routine of troubadours and stand-up comedians that littered the usual open mic. The first bit was a sing-a-long, where co-owner Jason, himself a talented guitarist, would lead a group karaoke session. Originating from a night where Jason’s laryngitis threatened to ruin the three song set he had prepared. Refusing to postpone the debut of his new Les Paul, he roused the crowd to sing for him.
The beauty of this wasn’t in the shared joy of alcohol-free chorus of strangers reading projected lyrics off the brick wall. No, what made these group karaoke sessions so fun was the fact Jason would hand pick sing-able songs from the hallowed halls of college radio, and teach the songs to the crowd. An army of hip strangers would at first stumble together then swell to stadium strength renditions of Celebrated Summer, California Uber Alles, Kiss Me on the Bus, Kiss Off, and Academy Fight Song. Those were undeniable moments of brilliance and brotherhood.
The other act, however, was wholly unique to Legendary. It was so beloved that there were nights where the entire three hours were spent only playing the game, much to the dismay of tortured poets and would-be idols. David had named the game “BS or Boss.” It involved an audience member telling some form of self-centered story, attempting to tell fantastic elements with straight faces or expose an unexpected deep secret.
Once the tale was told, the participant would walk back to their seat, basking in the glorious attention cast upon them and enjoying the tittering whispers. While they sat, David would approach the mic, throw his arms out to the side and yell “who thinks that was BS?” Depending on the audible feedback he would raise one arm like a needle on an analog meter. Satisfied the crowd had said its peace, he would then yell “now who thinks that was boss?”
The appeal of the game was that the participant was never expected to confirm or deny the result. For some it was a chance to practice creative communication. For others it was a cathartic release; bleeding a pressure valve without fear of judgment. For all who played, it resulted in three minutes of sweet notoriety.
On this particular night no one had invoked the “BS or Boss” game yet. The crowd was patiently listening as a young man finished a clumsy rap over a tired Dr. Dre instrumental. They had seen three amateur rappers; remarkable considering it had been a year since the last self-styled fire-spitter had bothered to take the mic. While rarely loved, most in attendance would admit rappers were preferable to the inevitable visits from soggy marijuana legalization proponents, opinionated armchair politicians, and cracked conspiracy theorists.
Eager hands flew into the air as soon as the last thump ended, and David motioned to a spectacled man in a black duster. He was not unknown to the crowd; he was a generally well-liked comic book fan who was a little perturbed that his Fortress of Solitude was hijacked once a month by nonbelievers. He would prepare short sermonettes praising one comic or another, attempting to make converts among the hoi polloi. This week he was selling the virtue of a particularly literary run of She-Hulk comics.
Next up was the first off-kilter appearance of the night. It was no secret that David was a big fan of kitsch, so whenever the crowd offered up an audience member that was more Let’s Make a Deal contestant than artsy hipster, he was quick to whisk them onstage. Tonight’s fruitcake was an enormous man, nearly seven feet tall and built like a nose guard. Unlike most nose guards, he carried a set of bagpipes.
The audience groaned and chuckled in equal measures as he franticly belted out Smoke on the Water, his face as red as a tomato as he struggled to stay oxygenated. The performance was filled with frantic squeaks and squawks, assaulting the audience with the volume. It was indeed a spectacle, but it was far from the most bizarre thing to ever take the stage. In fact, the access to a captive audience and the unspoken acceptance they offered attract strange pilgrims from the fringes of normalcy.
Once there was the kid who modified his Gameboy DS to belt out Kraftwerk-like tunes through a mini Marshall amp. His energetic robotic dancing was an odd contrast to what was effectively a boy standing in front of a crowd playing a handheld video game. On another night there was a woman who put on a one act play about menstruating. It was the closest David had ever come to pulling the plug on a participant for reasons other than violating the 3 minute courtesy limit.
Perhaps none of the outliers could compare to the man who was assumed to be a prop comedian, but in all actuality was having a series of laxative-fueled bowel movements into an enormous costume diaper, which matched his bib, bonnet, and oversized pacifier. It turned out he just liked to have an audience.
David was a showman at heart, and knew when he needed to cleanse the crowd’s palate. Once the bagpipe playing giant had finished, David pointed to a woman with a model’s figure and a metal guitarist’s tattoos. As she made her self-aware catwalk towards the mic, the throng’s respectful millennial males fought the urge to cat-call her, but still managed to grow a little hot under their fedoras.
She grabbed the microphone and the stand like a young Tina Turner; gingerly one finger at a time and with both hands. Not overly tall, she still bent forward seductively to speak into the mic, “BS or Boss.” The crowd exploded in hoots, allowing blessed release for polite men and women interested in more than her coming soliloquy.
“So last summer I decided I would make a conscious effort to cop to adult life,” her intro was met with a few playful boos, “Now, now, boys. I set a deadline for myself, a ‘quit date’ if you will. I decided on my 28th birthday, next May, I would turn over a new leaf.”
She stood upright slowly in a controlled display of sensual yoga. She knew all eyes were on her as she casually smoothed out every wrinkle from the front of her skin-tight Rat Queens shirt with her right hand. She exhaled then momentarily biting the left corner of her lower lip before continuing.
“So I decided to use the coming year to visit every desire and taboo my little heart desires. Here is one particularly unbelievable experience I’ve already had this summer…”
She continued with her steamy tale, and it was moments after she exited the staging area before anyone thought to clap. It wasn’t an impolite delay as much as one born from self-preservation. Around the room, girls and guys shot dagger glances at their significant others for enjoying her tale too much. Thankfully, for those poor souls, David stepped to the microphone.
“Okay everyone! Who thinks that was BS?!”
The seal had been broken and the majority of the next hour treated the crowd to three-minute fantasies. Stories swirled about stolen kisses, experimentation with chemicals of ill repute, and pranks that bordered on first degree vandalism. Over the PA system hearts were opened, relationships were skewered, regrets exposed, and lost opportunities mourned. There was an element of one-upsmanship that existed during BS or Boss, and the recitations’ moods could burden the room with the weight of their tone.
The stories had not followed a particularly dark path but there was a sameness which needed David to moderate. During these times he would call Jason up front to lead a couple songs. Afterwards there would be a short intermission during which patrons would order more of Wendy’s amazing drinks, stand in line for powder room visits, and mingle with the night’s celebrities. Fifteen minutes later, it would all begin anew.
On this particular night the crowd seemed eager in its self-indulgence. One by one they continued to file to the microphone and spill their (potentially fictitious) guts, propelled forward by a palpable sense of permissive encouragement. As ten o’clock arrived there was no sign of crowd dispersal.
Across the partition the lights flicked off as Joe, the manager and resident expert in fictional lore, proceed to close the comic shop for the evening. Someone handed Joe a frosty plastic cup, no doubt a fresh banana crème soda with blue food coloring; a drink Wendy created for his particular taste and known as “the Gleek.”
Joe and a few of the store regulars exchanged fist bumps and friendly words before he pulled the accordion-style gate shut. Those standing on the ramp between were forced back into the coffee shop proper, which filled in gaps by the few bodies that had left, creating once again a shoulder-to-shoulder intimacy. Now that passage between the two entities was blocked, the room felt cozier, even a little claustrophobic in its overpopulation.
David, with no impetus to chase everyone home, allowed the night to continue. The crowd was determined to take turns until each soul present had shared. This continued for well an hour past the scheduled end, it seemed like the raw materials of tale-telling were finally exhausted. David cleared his throat to chase off hoarseness for one last benediction before ending.
“Excuse me, David? Do you have patience for one more?”
From the back of the room, the timbre of a man’s voice halted everyone mid thought. Perfectly plain and otherwise unremarkable compared to the sea of vintage dresses and impressive beards, a man stood at the rear of the crowd patiently awaiting David’s reply.
The man was personally unknown to David but something about him made the emcee hesitate. As he searched his memory, he realized the man looked quite familiar. He had never spoken to him and he had never taken the mic, but he had been present in the past. The more he thought about it, the more he recalled seeing the average-looking man. Something within him nagged caution, but the inner showman saw a potential opportunity for spectacle.
“Well, loyal Legendary Legionnaires, you are in for a treat! History is about to be made! Come on up, mysterious stranger!” The crowd politely ceased preparing to leave as David waved the man to the stage.
Buffeted by a playful of deltoid punches and back slaps, the man slithered through the crowd. As he stepped beneath the lights, he exuded a dark charisma that vexed the audience from front to back. As the slow wave of hushed curiosity rolled over the gathering, the man surveyed the crowd. There was a quiet moment spent meeting glances with a smile and mischievous glimmer in his eyes.
The room was pregnant with expectation. He soaked in their anticipation, relishing the power of holding a group’s undivided attention. Goosebumps were raised among the excited crowd as the temperature slowly dropped, and the lights dimmed. The man began to speak.
“Good evening, fellow narcissists. BS or Boss?”
The audience exploded, the uproar shaking the framed original comic art that hung along the walls. Impressed with their own spectacle, the applause lasted several beats longer than reasonable. The man motioned with his hands to bring it down.
“My name is Bezaliel, Bez for short. And… well, I am the devil.”
The group’s giggles were punctuated by a singular outburst of “Bullshit!” which brought with it outright laughter. David scrambled to a low bookcase holding used trade paperbacks and discounted Elementals shot glasses to produce a long, pump-action water gun. The crowd cheered with approval as David doused the disruptive patron. It was David’s night; there are rules to follow and there will be order.
Over Bez’s head soared a white towel, knotted at one end to help it fly; a peace offering from Wendy to the moistened customer. David rolled his cupped right hand as he bowed, signaling apology and permission to continue.
“That is to say, I am a devil. One of many, wandering among you daily; helping to nudge and bait you into all sorts of fun. Or, as the guy who lives on the floor above me calls it,” he said as he pointed to the ceiling for exaggerated comedic effect, ‘sin.’
“You see, that’s just it. There’s no shortage of sin, err, I mean fun being had. To the contrary, fun is enjoying an epochal peak in popularity!” he paused to receive a round of celebratory whoops and whistles.
“The problem is this; you people are doing it all wrong. Fun works best when its complicated; when there are questions, delusions, shame, betrayals… oh to Hell with it, I’ll just say it. Sin is supposed to have variety. Spice of life and all that, no?
“All of you have mastered vanity. I mean, you’ve really made an art of it. You have found ways to innovate and codify it into something so pure that it diminishes all other fun occurring in its vicinity. No matter what monkey business arises, it somehow circles around until it unmistakably points right back to you.
“There’s no secretive desperation, no fear of being caught. It’s just out there, displayed for all to see on a new technological platform every year. You use it as a beacon then dare others to judge you. You know that old trope of a kid finding out that his mother used to be a real hell-raiser when her overly-chatty filterless college roommate visits? Dead. Lost to the ages. Because impressionable little Suzie has wi-fi access and as you all know, the internet is forever. At any time she can piece together ‘the descent of Mom.’”
His tone was both sweet and salty; a mix of observational comedy and outright judgmental mockery. The laughter offered up by the audience was real, but a good portion of it was nervous. Bez continued to smile, shyly blinking if caught in someone’s stare to let them off the hook. Inside he was savoring their unease; using it as a barometer to pace his act.
Bez continued, “And it doesn’t stop there, because as my nosey neighbor,” again pointing upwards, “would agree, I love pride and ego as much as anyone. The problem is that you find a way to carry this vanity into every aspect of life.
“Everything for you is personal. As in ‘regarding only to one’s self.’ You have coffee in tiny selfish cups that brew just enough for you. We have miraculous technological devices that you demand be shrunk and customizable. You can’t even be troubled to hear the same music as other people; you make personal playlists that you carry with you, forever available in the cloud, and shot directly into your precious eardrums for only you to smugly enjoy. Radio stations are dead and DJ’s are no longer beloved public personalities and tastemakers, but fashion conscious attention whores.
“Communication advancements have become more and more one-sided; technological bullhorns for you to tell the world what you think at all times about anything. You even take pictures of your goddamned food! Oops, sorry,” he covered his mouth in mock embarrassment as he motioned to the ceiling with a dismissive thumb.
“Even your hobbies are vain. You curate and collect artifacts of some art form or another, and pile them in a manicured museum that no one will ever see. You jealously correct people who misspeak or show ignorance to your pursuit; not because your heart is serves that flavor of mammon but because you want to show how damn smart you are.
“Your sin is DULL, people, and it is bumming me out. I mean like, whoa.”
The last line was just enough to let the squirming crowd off the hook, drawing some chuckles. Many were starting to feel lectured, and many were already several Tweets in to complaining about the “judgmental loudmouth comedian at the coffee shop.” It was dangerous comedy to some, verging on spoiling what was previously a fantastic night.
“Can we talk about your tattoos? I love tattoos. Nothing upsets my upstairs neighbor more than people who can’t leave their bodies well enough alone. I, however, delight in it. Body modifications are so much fun! They are like a spitball shot into the eye of creation. You’re wresting the steering wheel away from the driver, veering the bus from the pre-planned route, and enjoying your own trip. Glorious rebellion!
“Ah yes, tattoos. The middle finger to community standards, open disdain for those that look only at book covers, and a statement that the stock model of human is inferior and generic. They are anarchic on a metaphysical level, really. Tattoos used to break harmony, encourage others to judge, and often were in and of themselves offensive and rude. Oh, tattoos… now there was something that paid sin forward!
“But look at what’s on you. Most of you might as well tattoo the words “look at me” or “I dare you to” across your foreheads. Or better yet, tattoo a chip on your shoulder. Hey, no one could knock it off! But guess what, no one would bother to try. It’s not there for them, it’s for you. You, you, you, you!”
Bez mimicked wiping sweat from his forehead although none was present. He seemed undeterred by the lights above. The room was silent this time, hanging on his every word; reserving the right to decide if they were offended based upon what he said next. No one wanted to cry foul, least of all Jason who seemed to be truly enjoying Bez’s rant.
“You’ve taken the joy from sin, that’s all I am saying. Instead of a nation of sinners living fast and loose, we’ve filtered our insubordination. Everything is out in the open, and we nod at one another’s admissions. Thousands of individuals living without the threat of chaos or surprise. That needs to change. It needs to change because, like you, I care greatly about me. And I refuse to be bored at my job until a generation arises that once again appreciates true fun.
“So here’s what I’ve been doing; I decided to be the change I wanted to see, and I chose this particular city. Because, as you know, it’s better to keep business local and small. I’ve been attending in relative anonymity from the very beginning of this little braggers’ support group. And, I have kept close notes. I have cracked the code and without a doubt, I can say that I have truly discerned the BS from the Boss.”
Awesomely Open Mic Nite regulars turned to look at one another. They wondered questioned each other silently if this man had indeed been present at past recitations, secretly taking notes. Emotions swelled within the room as many wished the act would stop. A few grew preemptively angry or embarrassed.
“Now I’m feeling it! There’s that shame; that desire to hide our pleasures behind a facade! Good job! See? You are all still redeemable. But not today. It’s too little too late. We are so doing this.”
David slyly reached over and pulled the microphone’s XLR plug from the amp. Many in the crowd saw David’s ruse, and sighed in relief, which he answered with a finger pressed to his lips. Seemingly oblivious to the cloak and dagger operations happening behind him, Bez scanned the crowd with an accusatory finger.
Not a soul in the room expected his voice to come through loud and clear without the PA’s assistance, “You people make attractive nuisances of yourselves. Your lives are stuck in attract mode. Well, I’m stepping up to play. Let’s have some fun, shall we?”
He gave the crowd a sneer that chilled them to the bone. A few indignant patrons stood to leave. Bez waved towards the door with a sharp flick of his wrist. Those trying to retire early found that the door would not budge. After a few tried to muscle the door free from its latch, it became obvious that no one was going anywhere. This was amplified when Bez motioned his pointed finger downward, buckling the knees of all who were standing. It was then that panic visited the hearts of all present at Legendary Comics and Coffee. Bez pointed again into the audience, this time singling out a beautiful redheaded girl near the front.
“Miss Megan,” he hissed, “No, not you in the back, this other girl named Megan. You said that you had eight one-hundred dollar bills hidden under your mattress, saved away for an emergency plane ticket. To jump the moment your beloved ex Patrick called and wanted you back. You said that your fiancé James might have a problem with this, so it’s just a secret among all of us here. Is all of right?
The “other girl named Megan” blanched and weakly nodded her quivering chin as Bez continued, “Well I am happy to report that her story was indeed Boss.”
Bez held his arms out motioning for applause. Only a few reports of half-hearted claps sounded, which Bez dismissed them with a gesture, “Don’t tell me that all of you figured this out already? Well, I can confirm that there is a Patrick. There is a James. And there is indeed eight-hundred dollars under her queen-sized Serta mattress at 1805 Vine Street! And, right now there is an anonymous text to James with directions to the money and Patrick’s phone number.”
This declaration was received only by a few involuntary laughs which were immediately shamed silent by those who rightly assumed that Bez was not joking. Then the harsh rumble of Megan’s phone thrashing about in vibrate mode drew audible gasps. In Megan’s case it drew tears. She politely pressed to silence the notification that “Bae James” was calling, and flipped the phone face down. She shot a wet look of betrayal at Bez, who shrugged.
“Where was I? Let’s keep the theme of love. Here we are. You. Pete,” Bez’s attention was unwelcome to the man shaking his head.
“Be a sport, will you? It’s all a game! Remember Nora? That sweet, red-headed girl that is never far from your mind? Nora, who you work with every day? The one you have the most detailed and well-recollected dreams about? I believe that you admitted here, publically, it’s only lust, but that it is a lust so pure and intense that you fear that if you ever befriended her that you’d be overcome by it?
“You stood here in February of last year and told us that any relationship that you’d pursue with her would be passionate and tantric, but in the end only serve as an opportunity to experience your twisted erotic fantasies. After which, you’d surely leave her, breaking her heart and stealing her trust in all mankind, right? Actually, for a while there I was really pulling for you!
“Well, it was nice that you restrained. Not so much because it’s noble of you to rather live in desperate self-denial than break her heart, but because… You see, audience, it’s complicated. In a way Pete fed you BS, and was totally Boss. There is a Nora, but she doesn’t work with him. She’s his supervisor’s daughter. Here name is really Chelsea, and she’s sixteen years old.
“A little lie with a lot of truth; I love your style, brother! So much so that I wrote your act down word-for-word and emailed it to Chelsea, but accidentally sent it to her dad’s account. Oops! I bet your face is red! If it isn’t, it may be when you realize I attached a few choice snapshots to the email. While not really your penis, it is indiscernible enough that you’d never be able to convince an angry father differently! Or a jury of your peers…”
Bez was laughing now, but no one else joined him. Jason tried to rise from his chair, intending to physically remove Bez. Without even turning to look, Bez made a flicking motion with his fingers in Jason’s direction, causing some unknown force to cement him where he sat and silence his angry protest. David too was frozen, stuck in a perpetual casual lean.
As Jason continued to struggle against being contained, Wendy had stepped into the kitchen to call the police. The phone did not yield the expected dial tone, but instead carried the voice of Bez directly into her ears. She dropped the receiver and retrieved the billy club she kept for emergencies. As she started her stormy return to the bar, meeting a solid invisible wall in the doorway. In frustration she lashed out with the club; each of the flurry of blows was stopped cold. Sharp spikes of concussive pain shot up her forearm, illustrating the futility of her attempt.
It was a strange tableau to behold; an angry man struggling in futility to stand and next to him a worried man lounging in a carefree manner. Wendy was trapped in the kitchen, pacing like a caged tiger, wishing for a chance to rumble with this intruder. The three of them had worked unceasingly to create a community rather than a business, so it was cruel and unusual punishment for them to watch this stranger attack their customers.
Out in the café the room continued to grow colder, and the people within began to shiver. These involuntary quakes were aggravated by the adrenaline pumping through their bodies. Many had tried to lean their bodies or scoot their chairs out of Bez’s direct line of sight. Bez smiled as watched them squirm, now noticeably taller and broader than when he meekly approached the stage.
“How about you, Miss Phuong? Are you here tonight?” Bez held his hand over his brow and pretended to search the horizon, “I hope so, because I especially loved your moving confession. You said your grandmother’s dementia had become a tremendous burden on your family and that while you love and cherish her, she is ruining your social life. So much so, in fact, that there are times that you catch yourself wishing she was dead. Guess what? Boss! And as of 4 minutes ago, your wish came true!”
Even over Megan’s continued sobs you could hear the sound of a twenty-year-old Vietnamese woman hit the ground. No one moved to help her, lest they drew attention to themselves and became Bez’s next target.
“How about nasty ol’ Rhonda? Is that you back there in your Wizard of Gore shirt? I remember you for the nasty things you said you’d do to your ‘unnamed internet rival’ if you were ever in the same room. Would you really carry out all of those violent things to that woman? The one that used to work for your little publishing house, but left to find success and adoration while you became a glorified blogger?
“You are such a meaty stew of self-destructive personality disorders that it was hard for me to figure out if you were telling us the truth or not. You shocked us all for sure, and felt pretty good about it. However, unlike you, I have a pretty good handle of what is real and what isn’t. It’s all about vantage points, my dear, and from where I stand your story is pure BS.
“Instead of the unhinged dirtball you costume yourself in, you are really just an insanely jealous underachiever. Her success angered you, but mostly because you were more devastated about the loss of what may have been your first actual friend. You’d never had a girlfriend. Well, you’ve had girlfriends but not a Thelma and Louise kind of girlfriend. She was going to be your first dear friend, the one you let within your grody walls. The closeness you fantasized about never materialized, and never would have truthfully. Guess what? Goodbye mean-girl clout in the indie music scene and hello restraining order!
“Everyone be sure to surf to Rhonda’s site tonight. The latest post is tender and heartwarming. A real baring of her soul; and so brave of her to admit that all she has ever written was stolen from or inspired by her number one girl crush! And the self-depreciating humor and destructive behavior? All an attempt to get her true love’s attention. Awwwww, how precious.
“Look at her you guys. I know she looks hurt but it’s okay, not many people read her site. Well, until tonight. Anyone in the United States searching for music, porn, movies, weather, or directions are going to experience the same glitch that leads their browser to her page. Don’t worry, the browsers will only freeze long enough for the first two or three paragraphs to be read. I’m not some malicious hacker. Those guys are evil.”
The gloves were off. Bez continued his assault. Workplace embezzlements and diversions were exposed, even if they were false. A young Romeo worried about how his family would receive a Juliet of another race was assured that it would be best to not pursue love; primarily because racist epithets would be appearing in both current and retrospective feeds of his online accounts.
“So, as you see, it’s really for the best that you never let her know how much you love her.”
A self-avowed straight man had shared his lingering curiosity of what being with a man would be like. It was a common act on Awesomely Open Mic Nite, but Bez called out one man in particular for his revelation.
“Boss, Steve! And the homophobic college boys in the frat you are rushing have been notified to not let their guard down. See, honesty is the best policy; I’ve helped you maintain your heterosexuality. You’re welcome.”
“While we are on the topic, how about Greg? You feel weird around your homosexual brother because you are deathly afraid of AIDS? How ironic. Remember that girl from your macroeconomics class? All I am saying is get HIV tested soon. And it wouldn’t kill you to give her a call afterwards.”
On and on it went, Bez meticulously eviscerating anyone who had ever stepped behind the microphone and hoped to draw a moment’s attention to themselves through their staged admissions and flash fictions.
“Bradley. You secretly loathe your girlfriend for her immaturity? You’re regretful that you tried so hard to keep that high school flame lit well into your twenties? You’re so sweet that can’t bring yourself to break up with her because you know she has no ambition and no future without you. Wow, that’s awkward now that she’s pregnant!”
“Diane likes to fantasize that she has inoperable cancer. She likes to picture herself handling it publicly and nobly to the respect and love of all who hear her brave story. Those fantasies of admiration and inspiration may no longer just exist in your mind, Diane. Get that pancreas looked at. It’s rarer in women, you know. It’ll be all the more tragic and high profile. Congrats, you are finally a human interest celebrity!”
“LeRoy’s story was not only BS but was a desperate attempt at a cover story! He doesn’t wander graveyards because he can sometimes hear whispers of the dead. He hides behind tombstones and masturbates while watching mourners from afar!”
“Single mom Annie, crushed by the burden of raising twin boys she had too young. Forced to grow up and miss the experiences of the usual American college girl as she sacrificed and raised two kids alone. Shunned from her family and abandoned by the deadbeat dad, Annie hates that she resents the little tykes in her darker moments.
“In her heart she’s still a great mother though, you guys. On nights like tonight, when she lines up a sitter, she feels guilt for having fun. As she should! The sitter she hired tonight snuck a boy in, and let’s just say no one was minding the till. The boys went outside to play several hours ago and no one even knows where they are! Spoiler alert: a nice man in a van was tipped off to pick them up. Oh, you guys, don’t look so sickened. It was okay. Their mom told him to pick them up. Hahahahahahaha!”
Bez was lost in a maniacal guffaw as the entire room squirmed and cried out tearful requests for him to stop. He heard them all, each and every tortured request to end his terrorism. He fed off them, drew their raw terror to himself and fed upon it.
“It’s funny, April. It might finally be easier to move to Denver. You’ll be happy roaming the mountains now that your house here in town has burnt down!”
“It was BS that you secretly hate pharmacy school now that you are in your final year, Juan. What did you say you wish you had done? Acting? Well, act surprised when you show up tomorrow and face charges of academic misconduct and falsification spanning all the way back to your admission application!”
“Kirk, it was BS when you said that the only reason you are so obsessed with your skin, spending so much money on product and time on care, was because you are deathly afraid of getting old. But I have good news; you won’t live to see a single wrinkle or liver spot!”
“Don’t worry about that suicidal friend of yours, Mandy. The one who you are pretty sure has only stayed alive because of your 24-7 availability to her and the long nights of listening to her depressed ramblings? She is indirectly costing you friends and hurting your performance at work, no? What has it been now, four months since her breakup? Well, it’s time to call ‘Boss’ and let you in on a secret that is equally boss; tonight she has become aware that you have unfriended and blocked her, and changed your phone number!”
The air in the coffee shop was now so chilly that frost was forming on the inside of the picture windows that flanked the locked door. The helpless congregation huddled inside their folded arms and rubbed briskly at their skin. Small puffs of visible breath rose to the ceiling only to dissipate as if they never existed.
“Your secret desire has always been to see a horrific car wreck? Boss! And you will! Double boss! I’ll save the surprise for who will be in the car for you. I’m no monster after all!”
“That’s noble that you have been cheerfully loyal since your wife had her accident, and it really tugs at the heartstrings the way you have been such a noble martyr when it comes to forced celibacy; what with you rather live without sex than live a life without the woman you truly love. All women should be so lucky to find a man like you. And so lucky to find out how much you are spending on escorts and ‘massages.’”
“You really aren’t tired of the noisy girls that live in the apartment next door. BS bro. But they may want to move when they realize you’ve strung a spy camera through the adjoining wall, loading your hard drive with video of them in the bathroom. So weird, really. But who am I to judge? After all, it worked for Chuck Berry!”
In rapid fire succession Bez continued to detail the secret lives of all in the room, and added new twists endings to them all. Some among the crowd started to drop off; unconscious or dead, no one could tell. All eyes were trained forward and all minds saying silent prayers to whatever was listening to deliver them from this nightmare. The problem with these calls for rescue is that they were all rerouted to Bez, who grew in stature and power as each soul surrendered hope. Guilt, shame, fear, sadness, covetousness, murderous intent, lust… the colors of sin began to separate again and reveal themselves through the prism of Bez’s words.
The laughter continued as Bez enjoyed his handiwork, now nearly tall enough to strike his forehead on the stage lights. He spread his arms out in a sign of triumph; his hands started to look like movie-monster claws, and his face elongated and protruded into a bestial snout. His eyes turned ruby red and he roared until the walls shook violently. Comics fell from shelves, coffee cups tumbled and shattered, and chunks of ceiling fell from above.
One by one the lights exploded, plunging Legendary Comics and Coffee into a frozen darkness followed by complete and utter silence. No one moved, even though their faculties were now completely restored to them. They sat together; some of them crying, some praying, others murmuring, but none of them acknowledging one another.
When daylight broke, the sun’s rays intruded through the frosted windows. The door flew open under its own power, and one by one the moribund crowd stood and filed out alone into an uncertain world. Meeting them outside the café’s door was a message written across the sidewalk in what appeared to be blood. It read, “See you next month?”