The Coffee Cup
Tom, TX, USA
Just before the summer of 1977, I was hired as a busboy at a local hotel’s restaurant. The hotel was only three years old and had been built on the sight of another hotel that had burned down many years before. The hotel had a creek that ran through the property. This town at one time had been a stopping point for people traveling west through Texas. It was fairy common for travelers to stop at this creek in the 1800’s, and the town had been established due to this.
I first was assigned to the evening/dinner shift as I still was in school. When school was let out for the summer, I moved to the far more hectic morning/breakfast shift. The girl who opened the restaurant quit abruptly one morning (she literally ran out yelling that she quit and was gone before anyone else arrived) so I was assigned to open the restaurant. This necessitated me arriving at about 5:30 in the morning to get the dining room set up and ready for the breakfast rush before the restaurant opened at 7:00. The rest of the dining room staff showed up at around 6:00.
Each morning I would get the key to the dining room from the front desk and unlock the ornate gate with stained glass panels that served as the dining room’s front door. The dining room always was very dark as its windows were shuttered each night, the sun had not yet risen when I arrived, and the alcove in which the lobby doorway was located did not let light spill in from the lobby, so I would quickly maneuver around the cash register area and grope for the panel of light switches under the counter. Although the dining room had been cleaned by the previous night’s crew, I noticed that there always was a half-drunk cup of coffee left on the table nearest the kitchen. That table’s chair at the cup’s position always was pulled back as if someone had just been sitting there. This never fazed me, but it struck me as peculiar and rather rude that someone would leave a dirty cup like that. The kitchen crew would show up just a little after I had, but they entered through the loading dock doors at the back as they were not supposed to be seen by hotel guests. The other busboy who opened on the weekends told me he often found a cup on Saturday mornings but never on Sundays.
I was running a little behind one morning, so the kitchen crew already was there when I arrived. As I hurriedly unlocked the gate door, I saw that the lights in the kitchen were on and that they silhouetted the dining room and its furnishings through the kitchen/dining room doorway. I also saw distinctly that someone was sitting at one of the tables - the table closest to the kitchen.
I was startled, but as I was in a hurry, I just called out a "good morning" since I thought it must be one of the kitchen crew, and moved to turn on the lights. The moment the lights came on, I saw that no one was sitting at the table, but there was an almost empty cup of coffee left on it. Oddly, though, the chair again was pulled back only enough for someone to have been sitting at the table, but not pushed back for someone to have had enough room to stand up suddenly and walk away. I decided to find out who was doing this, so I took the cup back into the kitchen area and found the morning shift chef and his two helpers busily chopping melons and getting the breakfast items out of the walk-in refrigerator. All denied that they had been in the dining room. I asked if anyone had come through the kitchen just then, but they said they had not seen anyone. This was a little creepy to me, but I shrugged it off as I was behind schedule and needed to get to work.
Everyday, a half-empty cup of coffee was on that table when I opened and the chair was pulled back. I knew the restaurant manager inspected the dining room before locking up at night, so I believed the dinner crew when they denied leaving it. The only employee on duty at night was one of two graveyard shift desk clerks, yet they both denied doing it and it really made no sense for them to leave the front desk unattended and risk being fired just to go through the hassle of unlocking the dining room to sit in there and drink coffee at a back table when there was coffee and a television at the front desk. The hotel had no security guard, so that was not an available explanation either.
Around the end of August, I again got to the dining room after the kitchen crew had turned on the kitchen lights. As I entered the dining room, I again saw the silhouette of someone sitting at that table. I was not going to let the person escape again before finding out who it was, so without turning away to turn on the lights, I walked straight across the dining room toward where this person was seated.
I said nothing as I walked up. I just kept my eyes on the silhouette of the head and shoulders. As I neared the person, I could make out that it was a man facing me and that he was wearing what looked like old fashioned clothing of the 1920’s or 1910’s. He did not move, but as I got nearer to him, I heard a rather faint voice coming from that table ask me "How much do I owe you?"
That not only caught me off guard, there was something about the voice that sent a chill right through me. I stopped and literally shuddered from the jolt that sudden question had given me. Even though my heart was racing and I felt unnerved, I managed to recover after a moment and I asked him if he was a guest at the hotel, and if so, how had he gotten into the dining room.
All I got back in return was a quiet, forlorn, "I don’t know where I am." Then the figure was not there anymore. He just vanished.
Terror took over me and I ran out into the lobby where there was light. I did not tell the desk clerk what had happened as I knew that would make me look really stupid. I finally got myself composed and decided that I had to go back in the dining room to see what was going on. I turned on the lights and looked over at the table. An almost empty cup of coffee was sitting on it.
That was the last time, however, that I or anyone else ever found a cup left on the table. After that morning, it never happened again. The other busboy never saw the man and I never told anyone what I had experienced. I quit in September when school started. Who the sad man was or why he was in that dining room, I have no idea to this day.