You can find a lot of things in the PPC Discord server's writing channel. From drabbles to dragon lore, from agents to angry supervillains, if the Discord users have thought it up then there's a reasonable chance it's in there. On the off-chance that somebody isn't feeling inspired, there will sometimes be prompts. Calliope of this parish was kind enough to post the one in italics below, courtesy of the @writing-prompt-s Tumblr blog. I was immediately captured by the premise and had to respond to it. Thank you for reading.
You run a café on the edge of life and death. Souls who have been departed from their bodies temporarily, such as in comas or near-death experiences, can relax in your quaint cafe for as long as they need before they can either return to their bodies or begin their journey to the afterlife.
"Hey, don't go through the pink door."
"What do you mean?" The soul looked back at me. I started to see fragments of who she was, how she thought of herself - softer and shorter than her body, in a comfortable sweater and a long skirt, curly hair and thick rimmed glasses. I couldn't see her eyes yet. That was when people moved on, when that happened.
"Staff only. Read the sign." I walked over and tapped a sheet of A4 paper. It said Thru Here in large friendly letters, each one a different colour. Underneath them was my handwriting. Staff Only, Absolutely No Exceptions. I liked my handwriting. Neat copperplate, even here.
"But I just saw-" She was cut off by a translucent orb floating through the front door, jingling the phantom bell above. "I'm sorry, I think there must be a mistake."
"Ma'am, we've only got three rules in this place. No order shaming, no leaving ectoplasm on the bathroom floors, and the pink door is staff only." I noticed the orb hover at the counter. "Er, excuse me." I turned my head. "Right this way please! Come along now!"
The woman's shape was getting clearer with every second. I could make out an expression as the orb bounced through the pink door, literally through it. Anger. Of course. "Well that's nonsense. Why can a - a ball go through when I can't?"
"You won't like the answer. Nobody ever does," I mumbled.
"I don't care about what you think I'll like, young lady. I care about what's behind that door you're so nervous about, and I'm not leaving until I find out. Don't think I'm afraid of making a scene, I will if it comes to it."
There was something on her sweater that I could see now. It looked like... was that splotches? No, wait. I couldn't believe it. Paint? Definitely paint. And on the other side were some cartoon ducks, three in a row.
"Okay, fine. But you won't like it." I unlocked the door and opened it. She stormed past me - through me, in fact - and marched through to the other side. I followed her into the dark.
I met up with her at the other end of the corridor. I'd had that put in here after some complaints from the customers and the building management. There was a second door here too, nice walnut wood that matched the tables in my café.
"So, will you open this door for me as well?" Her voice was starting to sound softer too, so far as I could make out. I probably didn't have a lot of time.
"Before I do..." I sighed, rubbing the bridge of my nose. "Ma'am, how much do you know about where you are right now?"
"Well, I thought I was in a nice coffee shop with excellent service." Sarcastic, sure, but it wasn't the worst review I'd ever had. "Which... now that I think about it, that's strange, because I was at home, I think. I'd just finished pruning Henry - you must excuse me, he's the rose bush, I named him after my late husband - and I was listening to the radio with a cup of tea, and, well, then I was here. You know, I can't remember a thing about how I got here."
"That happens a lot, ma'am." I took a deep breath. "If I might ask a personal question, are you feeling more energetic than usual? Sprightlier?"
"Well, now that you mention it, my arthritis does seem to be behaving itself more than usual today." As if on cue, her hands appeared, and I saw more of the paint on her fingernails.
"That's because you don't think of yourself as having it."
"I'm afraid I don't quite follow."
"Your shape. Your form. Where we are, it's how you think of yourself that matters most. Your self-image is yourself. Nobody has joint pain as a core tenet of their identity. Everyone's young and strong and vibrant. Everyone's... alive." I unlocked the door. "Through here please."
Inside was a much louder room. Orbs were whizzing around, jumping, floating, playing. The room was all warm yellows and sky blues, summer colours, and there was a circus clown's happy face on the little cups. A few tiny dots of light were in a corner, glowing.
"I think I understand," she said. Her eyes were green. I didn't have a lot of time. "This is somewhere that isn't quite anywhere. There's life, and there's..."
"I prefer to think of it as somewhere that's nowhere else. It's nicer that way. Hello!" An orb nudged at my leg, a bowl of jelly and ice cream hovering in mid air beside it. "Would you like - ah, I see you've got some already. Kindly Clown must be reading a story soon then! Can you help me out and let your friends know?"
The orb raced off, making the beebling noise they all did. I turned back to the woman. "His name's Jamie. The orb, I mean. You get to understand them after a while." My eyes prickle a bit. "People like you and Kindly Clown - she's called Rachel, by the by, you'd probably get on - your self-image is pretty much set. It's not the same for them. They're in flux. You grow up so far and so fast you don't even know you're growing." I saw Rachel setting up by the bookcases, with a crowd of orbs hovering around her. It was almost time.
"Is each one..." The anger was gone from the woman's face, and her eyes were kind.
"Some go back. Some go on." I rubbed my eyes. "I opened the café to give everyone somewhere nice to go, when they're going somewhere. When I started it was just the one room. I forgot that everyone meant..." I gestured at the orbs, settled in a semicircle around a clown reading a story. "Everyone. I do my best but, well, they're a real handful, and I've got the other side as well." A thought struck me. "Probably shouldn't call it that, all things considered."
"Well, that's just it." She pushed her spectacles up her nose. Her voice was younger now than it had been, clearer, brighter. Happier. "I noticed that people changed. They'd come in and they'd be quite indistinct. I thought I'd just brought my reading glasses with me by accident. But when they left, they were people."
"Everything gets clearer when you know where you want to go."
"I thought so." She smiled. "Thank you. I... I understand your reticence now, young lady. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have spoken to you like that."
"It's alright. You didn't know. I make a point of people not knowing, to be honest. It only upsets them."
"Yes, I can see why it would." She brushed down the front of her sweater. It was duck-egg blue, and it looked soft. The poster paint on the hem was a riot of different colours. I could see the yellow of the ducks, and their orange beaks. "Alright. I think I'm ready now."
"Yes. I know just where I'm going." Her smile reached her eyes. "My name's Iris. Iris Jones. It's a pleasure to meet you."
"I'm Cassie," I said. "Welcome to the children's section."