Barista Horror Stories: Tales from Behind the Bar

For many, this week has been scarier than any spooky tale or scary story. Take a break from the world around you and enjoy the last of our Barista Horror Stories with a topic  most of us can relate to: the horror of the clopen!

(To protect the job security of this story’s contributor names, locations, and identifying details have been changed. To read more spooky stories, click here  or here.)

Tale 3: œThere’s A Monster in the Closet 

Closing a coffee shop at night and then opening it the next morning can be a beast of a task. Colloquially known as the ˜clopen,’ this scheduling arrangement sometimes leaves less than eight hours of rest between one’s shifts. While Dillon didn’t prefer these back-to-back shifts, he made the best of them. His former job at a 24-hour cafe taught him that schedules could be much, much worse! So, when he started at working for a new shop, he agreed to work the clopens without complaint.

Volunteering for the shifts his coworkers disliked was part of Dillon’s long-game with the coffee shop. Even as the youngest member of the staff, Dillon knew that the path to upward mobility required a positive outlook, and he was willing to put in the effort necessary to grow with the company. His enthusiasm and flexibility stood in marked contrast to the constant complaints emanating from his coworkers. œI hate opening,  or œclosing takes too much time,  or œthe clopen makes me feel like I might as well just sleep at work,  his coworkers droned whenever a new schedule was released. In the midst of this sea of complaints Dillon would respond coolly, œI’m fine with it. Honestly, I think clopens are some of the easier arrangements. 

The ease Dillon was referring to lied in his mastery of the space. Being the last one in the shop at night and the first one there in the morning meant that he already knew what to expect for the busy morning shift. He could ensure that the close was completed properly, think ahead to the prioritized tasks he’d need to accomplish in the morning, and cut the occasional corner ” because as the sole closer and opener he was almost exclusively accountable to himself. It’s this last advantage, personal accountability that recently showed Dillon the eerily confounding aspects of the clopen.

On a Thursday night, not too long ago, Dillon was closing up the shop like he always did. He said goodbye to the last remaining customer and then locked the doors before cranking up the volume on his closing playlist. As he methodically progressed through the bus bins of dirty dishes, he hummed along to the music that was powering his close. Suddenly, in the brief silence between songs he heard a shuffling from around the counter. Dillon turned toward the register expecting to see a wayward customer, but no one was there. He quickly scanned the cafe for movement, realizing that he was the only one in the space. œI could’ve sworn I heard someone walking toward the register,  he said aloud to the empty room. œMaybe that was just part of the music,  he reasoned and returned to his dishes. Dillon continued uninterrupted until he reached the last three items on his checklist: turn off the music, shut off the lights, lock the door.

After dimming the front of house lights he walked to the dry storage closet to make sure it was closed and locked. But, as he approached he heard voices, faint whispers, like the kinds of sounds siblings make when they’re awake chatting past bedtime. œHello,  he called toward the hallway and closet, but no one answered. œThat’s so strange, no one’s here,  he thought as he moved closer to the closet door. œHello,  he called one last time before reaching for the doorknob. He opened the door slowly, but the storage room was empty. He stood silently in the closet for a few still moments, straining to hear the chatter again ”but all he heard was the sound of his own hushed breathing. œHow much coffee did I drink today?!  he puzzled, concluding that excessive caffeine was to blame for his hallucinations. œI’ve got to get out of here and get some sleep,  he thought. With that, he turned off the storage room light, closed and locked its door, set the alarm, and locked the shop behind him.

Having slept soundly, Dillon returned to the shop refreshed and alert on Friday morning. But, as he approached the door to unlock the shop, he realized that not even a full night of sleep could prepare him for what was inside. All of the lights were on when he entered the cafe, and his closing playlist from the night before was blaring through the shop’s speakers. œWhat is happening?!  he whispered as he stepped into the store. Surely there was a rational explanation for this, he thought. He checked the schedule to make sure that it was his day to open the shop and then proceeded to turn the music off. œHello,  he called out. There was no response. Dillon texted the store manager, Paloma, to ask if she stopped by last night after he closed. She responded within a few seconds, œHey Dills, yes, I stopped by to grab the deposits and balance out the petty cash bag.  Dillon sighed heavily at the site of the text. What a relief.

Contented with her response, Dillon set to preparing for the morning rush. Just as he was poised to open he decided to grab an extra sleeve of cups from dry storage. He could see light peeking out from under the door as he approached. œStrange, I wonder what Paloma needed from storage,  he wondered. As Dillon absentmindedly reached for the handle he heard shuffling behind him. The sound was unmistakable, like footsteps. He turned around but no one was there. œI’ve really got to get my hearing checked,  he thought. He reached back around for the closet handle and found it locked. Quickly, he unlocked the door, retrieved the cups, turned off the lights, and re-locked the door. It was a few minutes after seven and he knew customers would be waiting outside.

As the morning started, Dillon forgot about the sounds from the hallway and the storage room lights until Paloma arrived. œHey, just out of curiosity, did you go into the storage closet last night,  he asked her. œNope, I just worked at the bar,  she retorted. Her response startled him. The confusion must’ve shown on Dillon’s face because Paloma seemed concerned. œWhat’s wrong,  she asked. œNothing, I guess,  Dillon responded hesitantly. At the next lull in business he slipped away from the bar and walked back toward the storage room. Before he even reached the door, Dillon’s uneasiness recurred. Light seeped through the space under the door and into the hallway. He reached for the handle and found it still locked. Though he remembered turning them off this morning, someone had apparently turned the lights back on in the storage closet ”but they had done so while locked inside.

Since that day it’s happened repeatedly. Baristas report hearing footsteps when no one is around. The lights turn on and off at will. Sometimes people hear hushed chatter around the storage room. The activity doesn’t startle Dillon anymore, but it’s taught him one thing ”the clopen isn’t as predictable as it seems.

image1-150x150-1ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kelsey Viscount is a researcher and writer who splits her time between academia and coffee(demia). Her academic work explores religious consumer culture(s); the category of religion; and religion, media, and popular culture(s) in the 20th and 21st centuries. Her coffee work explores barista culture; educational processes; and histories of coffee. She consults on everything from college admissions essays, to workplace efficiency, and barista education. Currently, Kelsey coordinates the continuing education and quality control programs at Not Just Coffee in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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