Authors: Charity Tahmaseb
Table of Contents
Author’s Note: What the heck is Coffee & Ghosts?
Coffee & Ghosts
is a cozy paranormal mystery/romance that is told over a series of episodes and in seasons, much like a television series.
Ghost in the Coffee Machine
, which I think of as the pilot episode, began life as a short story that first appeared in
Coffee: 14 Caffeinated Tales of the Fantastic
Once, a very long time ago, I wrote a murder mystery that involved a ghost. During the research phase, I came across a tidbit about catching ghosts using coffee and glass jars. The novel never went anywhere, but years later, when I saw the call for submissions for Coffee, something clicked. Katy, her grandmother, and their business of catching ghosts with coffee and Tupperware (a far more practical and, frankly, safer option) were born.
Not too long later I realized that I wasn’t done with coffee and ghosts—or rather, they weren’t done with me. They’ve demanded their own type of storytelling as well.
Serial fiction is exciting and fun to write. It’s different from a novel in that each episode has its own story arc but also supports a larger one for the season. It’s flexible, for both the writer and the reader. You can follow along as I publish each episode or wait and grab the season bundle.
No matter how you read, thanks for coming along on this journey with me.
Coffee and Ghosts: The Season List
Season 1 is made up of five novelette/novella-length episodes:
Ghost in the Coffee Machine
Giving Up the Ghosts
The Ghost Whisperer
Must Love Ghosts
Season 2 is made up of three novella-length episodes:
Ghosts of Christmas Past
The Ghost That Got Away
The Wedding Ghost
All episodes and the season two
WHEN IT COMES TO GHOSTS
, my grandmother has one solution: brew a pot of coffee. Like today, in Sadie Lancaster’s kitchen.
Sadie clutches her hands beneath her chin and stares at our percolator, her eyes huge. The thing gurgles and hisses as if it resents being pressed into service. My own reflection in its side is distorted. When I was younger, I thought this was how ghosts see our world.
In places with bad infestations, they swirl around the percolator. I can reach out, touch hot moist air with one hand and the icy patch of dry with the other. One time, a ghost slipped inside. It rattled around until the percolator sprang from the table and hit the floor, splashing scalding water everywhere.
I still wear the scars of that across my shins.
But Sadie’s ghosts are barely ghosts at all. I’d call them sprites. They might annoy you on the way to the bathroom at three a.m., but little more. They also, as my grandmother points out, help pay the bills. So I remain silent while she pours the coffee: three cups black, three cups with sugar, three cups with cream, and three cups extra light and extra sweet. Twelve cups. Always. If anyone complains, my grandmother snorts and says, “As if no one has a preference once they’ve died.”
Don’t get her started on instant coffee, either. Since I was five, my job involves carrying the cups throughout the house, up and down stairs, into bedrooms, dining alcoves, walk-in closets. We never skip the bathroom, no matter what.
“The last place you’d want a ghost,” my grandmother says to Sadie. “Lecherous little beasts.”
I walk past the two women, my steps slow and steady. I still burn myself, make no mistake. My hands wear the scars of multiple scaldings. We keep a burn kit in the truck. But as I place the last cup on the edge of the sink, I smile. At least I won’t need that today. I rush back to the kitchen for the Tupperware.
Some ghost catchers use glass jars, but ghosts confined to small spaces can manifest images—grotesque or obscene or both. Ghosts, generally speaking, are pissed off and rude, which is why you don’t want one in your toilet. We buy the containers with the opaque sides, since what you can’t see won’t offend you. I use several at Sadie’s that afternoon, although truthfully, I only snag three little sprites in the den.
“She’s imagining things,” I whisper to my grandmother.
“Yes.” Her hand steadies my shoulder. “But how many repeat customers do we get?”
She has a point. We’re good. When we’re really in the zone—the right type of coffee beans, perfect brewing temperature, clean catches—a house might stay ghost-free for decades. If we’re not careful, there won’t be any ghosts left to catch.
With the sprites in the back of our pickup, we rumble down the county road that leads out of town and into endless fields of corn and soybean. Ten miles out, there’s a windbreak with a little creak. This is where we’ll set the sprites free. They’ll be, if not happy, content at least, and in no hurry to find other humans to haunt. I’m setting the sprites free—legs braced, container at arm’s length—when my grandmother speaks.
“When I’m gone, Katy-girl, I’ll come back and show you how to rid them once and for all.”
I sigh. I’ve heard this before. “But then I’d be getting rid of you.”
“You wouldn’t like me as a ghost. Besides, they don’t belong on this plane. This has been my life’s work.” She touches three fingers to her heart. “I don’t see why it shouldn’t be my afterlife’s work as well.”
She always says this. I always tell her she’ll live a good long time. Then we drive home, empty containers rattling against the flatbed, percolator perched between us, belted in, our third—and quite possibly most important—passenger.
* * *
That was three months ago. If my grandmother raged against the dying of the light, it didn’t show in her expression the following morning when I found her. She left me her house, the family business, and of course, the dented, silver percolator. I have yet to see a hint of my grandmother’s ghost. I’m not sure I want to.
The house is quiet without her in it. Even the ghosts have stayed away. I shake the canister of roasted beans, give it a sniff, certain I’ll need to dump it and buy fresh within a matter of days.
Sadie Lancaster calls as the first cascade of beans hits the garbage sack. Ten minutes later, I pull up in my truck, but don’t find Sadie cowering on the porch (her usual position pre-eradication). Percolator under one arm, I ring the bell.
“Oh, Katy,” she says, urging me inside. She beams like she has a secret. “There’s someone I want you to meet.”
This is it. My grandmother has chosen Sadie’s house as the spot for her grand reappearance and that’s why Sadie isn’t scared. My steps quicken, heart fluttering something crazy. Do I want to see my grandmother like this? I’ve never been afraid of ghosts, but this is different.
The aroma hits me first—rich, aromatic, turmeric, saffron, and a hint of rose petal. Sun glints off the sides of a samovar squatting in the center of the kitchen table, in the very place I always set the percolator. I clutch the thing to my chest as if that can protect us from its flashy usurper on the table. The samovar is gold-plated brass—I squint at it—in the Persian style instead of Russian.
“Katy,” Sadie says, throwing her arms wide, “I want you to meet Malcolm Armand. He catches ghosts with tea the way you do with coffee.” Her fingers twitch as if she’s urging us closer together. I stand my ground. “You two have so much in common,” she adds.
Malcolm runs a hand over smooth, dark hair. His white dress shirt gleams in the sunlight streaming through the kitchen windows. I’m in torn jeans and a T-shirt. Why anyone would attempt ghost catching in something so fancy is beyond me. Even so? I can’t help but feel grubby in comparison.
“It’s nice to meet you,” he says, extending that same hand, one without a single blemish or scar.
I fight the urge to whip my own hands behind my back, out of sight. I gulp a breath and shake his hand, breaking contact the second it’s polite (okay, maybe a couple of seconds before it’s polite). I try not to stare too hard at Malcolm, so I let my gaze travel the kitchen, the dining alcove. No ghosts here. I’d be surprised to find even the weakest sprite. And certainly my grandmother isn’t in residence.
That leaves me alone with Malcolm, and the tea-scented suspicion about where all my business is going.
* * *
When I walk into Springside Long-term Care, the first thing I see is Malcolm standing in the center of the common area, enchanting all the residents, the gold-plated samovar glowing on a side table next to him. I freeze, so every time the automatic doors try to close, they bounce back open again. This draws attention. I sigh, give up my plan to sneak out, and step forward to meet the facility manager.
“Oh, Katy,” she says, a flush rising up her neck, “I meant to call, so you wouldn’t make the trip out here.” She waves a hand at Malcolm. “He offered a “try before you buy” and well ... the residents just love him.”
Or at least most of the female ones do. They gather around Malcolm and his shiny, shiny samovar, their
mixing with the scented steam.
I don’t point out that Springside is—and always has been—a gratis account. Older people, my grandmother always said, are haunted by many things. It’s only right that we chase some of their ghosts away.
I’m backing toward the door, willing myself not to inhale a hint of rose petal and saffron, when a bony hand grips my wrist. The percolator crashes to the floor, adding one more dent to its history.