#creative-jams • café clockwork

23 Feb 2019 • 1970wc r4

I liked this one since there’s an interesting puzzle for the reader here, although I didn’t really give any hints.

I will give you this hint, though, in Base64. Just run the following function in the console of dev tools or use an online converter if you’re on your phone (although, you probably wouldn’t want to attempt solving it on one unless you have a suitable app): atob('VGhlIHF1b3RhdGlvbiBtYXJrcyBjb3VudC4=')

Shops in hidden alleys have always piqued my curiosity.

It’s where you can find sneakers so rare, you need to sign up for a raffle not to win it, but to be given the right to purchase it.

It’s filled with resellers of obscure items that stock them in peculiar quantities, such as cream refills, baby powder, and leather cleaner, amongst other stuff.

It’s the place where legendary cocktails – with a touch of illegality if you knew the right words to say – are known for.

But, the reason I’m here was for a slightly different reason.

 k743 | you know how there’s this community board pole thing outside of the vertex arcade
sweet | yeah

Passengers from tourists to pedestrian salarymen stroll along a street that had a silver round metallic cylinder of sorts, standing two metres tall. Layers upon layers of torn paper and the dirt-covered remains of tape adhesive proved this pole’s been used pretty well. But today, it was overlaid with posters of protest rallies, blue-red-beige polychromatic shiba inus, a simple white sheet of a silhouette of a moth followed by a QR code, and a concert of some Asian pop guy I couldn’t care less about.

 k743 | if you look up facing the west side, you’ll see a vinyl sticker of clockwork gears

Lifting my head up, indeed, I spot an intricate pattern of cogs, in front of closed curtains.

 k743 | that’s the place, it’s situated behind the alley nearby
sweet | ‘alley’ but _where_ in the alley
sweet | you know how these things work

As I turn the corner of the short alley, revealing a much longer path, I see a couple of guys and girls with cigarettes and vaporisers of different shapes and sizes. Some of them were donning aprons, whilst others in expensive looking casual wear. Past them, I find two too ordinary-looking doors. They were so plain that that in itself was the reason why it stood out.

 k743 | it... depends
 k743 | there are two doors but nobody really knows which one it is
 k743 | you just gotta guess
sweet | wdym
sweet | that doesn’t make sense

I look back at the alleyway. The closest person who’s vaping is... on the left. So I choose the right door and pull on its handle.

 k743 | apparently someone said the rooms ‘swapped’
 k743 | as in one day they went into the left door to find the bar had wooden interiors
 k743 | and then the next day it was velvet plush
 k743 | and out of curiosity on that day they went into the right door and the wooden one was that one
sweet | were they not like
 k743 | I can assure you they weren’t smoking anything weird
sweet | smoking something weird
sweet | hmm I see

The incidental light from upstairs dimly illuminated the carpet-furnished stairwell, split into two flights, the next around the corner. The jazzy tunes of piano and bass grew louder as I made my way up... to be greeted by a girl in a black and white frilly dress. It was perhaps a little too decorative for wearing in the public. It’d probably be perfect for cosplay.

“Um, good afternoon, welcome to Clockwork! Is that a table for one today?”

The waitress seemed to pause and stumble on her words – although, how should I put it... it’s not as if she was new staff, though.

“Yes, that’s correct.” I briefly scan the room of what looked more like a bar than a café: it was quite a spacious area, the left side of the room had rows of gin, whiskey and cognac, to name a few, lined up behind a counter with coffee machines. Seeing actual oversized cogs and the logo itself around the place reassured me I probably went up the right door.

“Actually you came at a rather quiet time, so please feel free to take a seat anywhere that suits you. I’ll come by with a menu in just a few moments. One sec!”

The girl briskly walks off behind the counter and disappears. She certainly wasn’t wrong on the ‘quiet time’ part, though. Not a single customer was here right now. Maybe, this really isn’t the right Clockwork.

Not even five seconds pass before she comes back out from the kitchen, bringing out two menus.

“Okay, here you go. Today’s recommendation is the Wild Red Rice Chai Blend with an assorted selection of arrowroot and potato mochi... oh I’m sorry, introductions. I’m Jasmine.”

“Jasmine, is it? Corvin. Though most people know me by the name of Coco. I bet you get told the name suits you, considering you work at a café?”

The girl smiles, and proceeds to sit down at the seat opposite me. Wait, isn’t that a definite no-no for waiting... no, employee conduct?

“Also, I don’t think it’s a necessity that you introduce yourself to everyone. Surely it must be socially taxing? Oh, and sitting down at a customer’s table is kinda...”

Jasmine glances down at the menu and breathes a heavy sigh. Wow, she’s having it rough. Within a few seconds, she lightens up again and points a finger at me.

“Alright! May I put forward to you a customer survey of sorts? Here, how did you first hear about Clockwork?”

“Uh, a, f-friend told me about it in a game called Aeon Online. Wait... don’t tell me, you’re kanashimi?” Although, indeed, I’ve never heard k743’s actual voice in-game, the manner of speech sounded like the person behind the screen definitely was a guy.

But now that I think of it, indirectly telling me to visit a place where someone works does sound pretty girl-like, especially with that kind of handle and real-life personality. Jasmine tilts her head.

“Umm, ah, whaa? Aeon, Online? Kanashimi? What are you talking about?”

Thank goodness. That would be kind of awkward... but interesting, if it unfolded that way. “Don’t... worry about it. Wild rice chai sounds interesting. I’ll give it a try, minus the mochi, if that’s okay.”

“Mhm. Just one of the wild rice chai? Sure, I can get that sorted for you.”

Jasmine pushes her seat back out and hops off to make the order. Is she the only one working here?

“Hey Jasmine, just out of curiosity, are you the only one who’s taking care of this café right now? Like, don’t you have a manager or something... unless you’re the manager?” Can’t be, surely. At least not someone as young as her.

I hear the sound of pressurised air being let off from the kitchen. Maybe this chai has a coffee blend?

“Ah, nah. When I said now was a quiet time, I really do mean it. Boss left me to look after the place until 2pm. That’s when other people start coming in, and another waitress attends to help me out. If you had ordered one of the main items, I might be in a bit of a pinch in that case, haha...”

Sounds dangerous, not having someone who can actually prepare 60% of the stuff that’s listed here...

“Okay, here’s the next question. What brought you to come to Clockwork? Was there some sort of appeal about this place, or something your friend said that piqued your interest?”

“Well, solely the fact that this café is situated in an alleyway was what made me come. I mean, just look outside. It’s the perfect place for shady people to hang around. So I came to see what kind of special trait you have going on here.”

She steps out of the kitchen balancing two saucers of tea served in double-insulated glass teacups, and a third holding a plate of sweets. Oi, I don’t think you do the three-plate hold with hot liquids like that.

“Here, Wild Red Rice Chai. I’d suggest giving it a minute’s wait for it to steep. Then, you can pour in the milk.”

“Thanks Jasmine. It smells great.”

She continues the conversation off from my previous topic.

“Well, strictly speaking, we’ve got a special trait. Many, actually, but it’s nothing shady or dodgy like the rest of the stores here.”

She pours in the milk over the strainer of spices, and then gives the strainer a small shake. After seeing how she prepares it, I follow suit.

“This place, is known for being slightly off. Personally speaking, I can’t see anything odd here, but maybe I’ve just gotten numb to this place... You can be honest, but does anything appear ‘slightly off’ about me?”

“Hmm... you’re quite talkative and a bit unconventional. But I can’t call that ‘off’, it’s just your personality, you know what I mean? Also, I think ‘unconventional’ applies to this whole café rather than just you.”

But there’s something else about the café I can’t quite pick out... it feels really obvious and something I should know. Jasmine takes a sip of the chai and stares into my eyes intently for some odd reason.

“To be honest with you, I’m actually not that great at conversations, so it’s refreshing to hear that. Sounds like I’m progressing in the right direction, huh? Oh, by the way, I added one teaspoon of sugar as it’s quite spicy, so please ensure you give it a good stir.”

“I... see.” I squint at Jasmine as I bring the cup to my mouth.

sweet | would you say
sweet | that café is cursed
sweet | maybe that’s the reason why it’s so low key

But, I refuse to drink. Something’s telling me that’s the right thing to do here.

“Wild rice in chai is quite the interesting combination. Tell me about it.”

Her face brightens at the question, and she takes another sip.

“Ooh! Good question you asked right there! It was my first order upon finding out about the place, and I’ve been a fan of it since. A few visits later, boss told me that he could show me how to make it if I was okay to run shifts here for a couple of months.”

“And I guess whatever after that’s history.”

“Yep. Strangely, even though my name’s Jas, I get called another nickname: The Quarter To.”

Jasmine looks at something behind me, and I turn back to align her gaze. Hanging on the wall was a demonstrator analog clock, currently showing the time as just a bit past 12:46.


I hear the sound of exhaling breath, followed immediately by the clink of a cup. Turning back, Jasmine was drinking my wild rice chai. Wait, what...?

“Coco. Promise me something.”

Her timbre of voice had, over those few seconds, made a complete 180: gone was her happy, cheerful tone, replaced with one of raspy exhaustion.

“Don’t. Trust. Anyone. Nobody working here at Clockwork is to be trusted. I myself, can’t be so confident either, not since I fell into this trap. I messed up. You, don’t be the second me.”

She takes the teacup off the saucer and speaks again, in a lifeless daze.

“Hey, did you know? Boss left me a strict rule to serving this tea: don’t immediately add milk since the earlier it is added the more ‘difficult’ things will become. They called me The Quarter To because I added it 45 seconds in. At first, I didn’t understand what that had to do with anything, but it dawned on me when I realised. Was there something slightly off about me? Yeah, there was. There IS. And the worst part of all is that I’ve been passing this agony on without realising it in the first place. It’s suffocating me, Coco. Everyone seems to be able to freely say what they want, but for some reason, I don’t. Tell me, what’s wrong with me? What is it?”