The Messenger – Episode 1

As far as I can remember, I was alone.  I sat alone in a pit of squalor and despair, hoping someday, someone would save me.  However, no one ever did.  It was after that night that I decided that if no one would save me, I’d have to go save everyone else…and maybe along the way I might myself be saved.  That was my earnest hope.  And so, my journey as a Messenger began…

Episode 1 – Under the Staircase

Arte sat mournfully at the table in his small apartment looking longingly at his microwave.  He stared at the black plastic box as the digital readout slowly ticked down.  As it finally chimed, he bolted to his feet, dashed to the microwave and ripped the door open.

“Finally…salvation.”  His mouth watered as he pulled a tray of food from the black reliquary.  He dashed back to the table with it and began to furiously stuff the contents down his neck.  His eyes began to water as he finished.

“Thank you, God, for the first meal I have had in two days.”  He sighed with contentment as he slacked back in his chair.  He looked out the window and was shocked to see it raining.  “Damn you, weatherman! You promised no rain today!”  He dashed to the veranda on the backside of his apartment and pulled down slopping wet laundry before tossing them in a basket and pulling them inside.  He angrily clenched his fist together as he stared at the pile of drenched clothes.  “One day weatherman…one day I shall have my vengeance, and it will be sweet.”

After digging through what seemed the least dirty of his clothes that were dry, he leaned into the bathroom and fluffed his black hair.

“It’s getting kind of long again…I guess I’ll have to break out the scissors.”  He thought back to the last haircut he gave himself and felt his gut twitch.  He shivered, unsure whether it was simply the thought of the terrible haircut or his current wet hair.  He rubbed a finger across the face of a shoddy plastic watch on his wrist and read the time.

“Ah crap, I’m gonna be late.”  He got to the door and scooped up a ratty black umbrella with one bent leg.  “The stuff people leave behind…”  He smirked to himself as he opened the front door to his apartment.  “Man, what a gusher…” The skies had completely opened up, and water was coursing down the sides of the street.  He closed his door and put a finger to his chin.  “Maybe, if I’m quiet…”  He took a few steps down the metal walkway and heard a loud creak that refused to be drowned out by the rain.

“Oy, Hartman!”  He heard the bellowing of the apartment manager from somewhere nearby.  “Your rent!”  Arte bolted off with such a speed that even he was surprised the distance he covered.

He turned to look behind him, wary that the apartment manager might come after him for missing rent again.  As he turned back, he felt his body slam into something smaller than him and fairly light.

“You jerk!”  He looked down to see a woman a few years younger than him on the ground, her long blonde hair tossed about and her dress splotched with water.  “How dare you just barge into me like that!  Do you have any idea who I am!?”  Arte blinked a few times.

“Umm…sorry, I don’t.  Should I?”  She looked up and glared at him with fierce blue eyes.  He smiled back and extended a hand to her.  “I’m really sorry about that, it was completely my fault for not looking.”  He pulled the young woman to her feet, but she was no less fuming.

“Look at what you did to my outfit!  I’m soaked to the bone!  How are you gonna make up for this!?  Do you have any idea how much this dress costs!?”  Arte took a step back momentarily, but leaned in and brushed some dirt from the woman’s face.

“Well, I doubt I can pay for such a lovely dress, but I’d be far more concerned with such a lovely lady wearing it.”  His comment caught her off guard and it showed  “You’re not hurt, are you?”

“Uh…I’m…fine.”

“Well, that’s good then.  I’m sorry, but I’m in a really big hurry right now.  I promise to make it up to you next time we meet, okay?”  He smiled and dashed away down the street.  It was a few seconds before the woman broke out of her daze.

“You punk! I don’t even know who you are!  How are-”  But he was gone.

Arte worked for a small local shipping company as a deliveryman.  Much to the surprise of new employees, who expected to see him driving a truck when they met him, he always buzzed away from work on a bike laden with packages.  More than a few questions were raised about his eccentricities, but no one in the company knew the town’s layout better than him, and the speed that he delivered packages through back alleys and side streets put the best truck driver to shame.  The one blot to his performance, however…

“Arte, you’re late, again!”  The crew boss was fuming when Arte snuck in through the back door.

“Well…this and that happened…”  The middle-aged man rubbed a hand across his rugged face.

“You have any idea how much crap I have to put up with over you every day?”

“Ehehe…sorry about that boss.”  Arte laughed nervously as he ruffled a hand through his hair.  The crew boss sighed.

“Just get to work, will yah?  And be on time tomorrow.”  Arte snapped a salute.

“Yes sir, thank you sir!”  The crew boss waved a hand at him before walking away.

“Enough with the cute act, just get to work.”  Arte dashed off to the assignment board and began loading the company-owned bicycle.

Just after midday the rain stopped, much to Arte’s appreciation.  He stopped next to an apartment building and shrugged off a poncho before carefully packing it below his street.  As he looked up a pair of eyes from under an outside stairwell caught his eye.  Curious, he set his bike against the side of the building and walked over to the stairwell.  A whisper of a mew met his ears as a small kitten peered out from under the first step.  He squatted down and beckoned the kitty over.  He rubbed a finger under the yellow cat’s chin as it purred back.

“Who would toss you out, little kitten?”  The cat mewed and trotted back under the stairwell.  Arte stood up, walked over, and peered into the shadow underneath.  Several pairs of eyes met his own, one larger than the rest.  It took a moment for his eyes to adjust and realize that a young girl was sitting under the stairwell with several small cats.

“My, who would toss away a perfectly good child?”  He reached out a hand and patted her fine black hair…only to find his fingers quickly siezed between a set of teeth.  He reeled back in pain, the young girl’s teeth still clamping down on his hand.

“Down girl, down!”  He wildly shook his arm until the girl let go and settled back in her spot.  Arte cradled his red fingers.

“Awfully fiesty, aren’t we?”  The girl didn’t respond as she pulled a striped brown cat onto her lap and cuddled with it.  He looked at her a moment before smiling.  “So, what’s his name?”  He pointed to the cat on her lap.  She patted the cat without looking up at him.

“Felicious.”  Her voice was more of a murmur than speech.

“Felicious.”  She nodded.  “That sounds like…a mix of feline…and delicious.”

“That’s what it is.”  She continued to pat the cat.

“That’s…well…certainly an interesting name.”  She looked up at him with a half-lidded stare.

“Are you a pedo?”  Arte shocked expression appeared to make no impact on the girl’s listless stare.

“My dear child, my tastes, if I can say I actually have them, fall far above your age.”

“Then why are you talking to me?”  Her short pigtails shook slightly as she spoke.  He put a hand to his chin and rubbed it.

“Well, I saw a lost little kitten, and came over to find a bunch more, and one big one.”  He smiled.  “So I suppose I was curious why all these lost little kittens were curled up under the stairs outside like this.”  The girl looked down at the small yellow kitten that had nuzzled up next to her and petted it.

“Mom…doesn’t like cats.”  Arte reached down and petted a nearby gray cat that was looking at him.

“I see, that’s too bad.  They seem like nice kittens.”  He nuzzled a finger under the cat’s chin, and it purred in response.

“She doesn’t like me either.”  Arte’s hand slackened slightly as he turned to the girl.

“I see.  What’s your name?”  The girl looked at him a moment before looking away.

“Nana.”  Her emotionless voice murmured in response.

He slid in under the staircase, picked up a cat next to the girl, sat down, and sat the cat on his lap.  “So, Nana, wanna tell me about your mom?”  She looked at him, slightly confused, but he smiled back.  The cats began to curl up around the two as the rain began to fall again.

“Mom…doesn’t really like me.”  Arte picked up the paws of the cat on his lap, making the black cat dance.  The cat didn’t protest, but simply allowed himself to be played with.

“So…why’s that?”  His voice was met with another languid reply.

“Because.”  Arte smiled as he toyed with the cat.

“Because why?”

“Because she doesn’t.”

“And why is that?”  Nana scowled at being prodded.

“Because…”

“Because?”  He prodded again.

“Because if I wasn’t here…daddy would still be.”  Arte let the cat’s paws go and the cat slackened onto his lap.  The brown cat ‘Felicious’ crawled out of Nana’s lap and settled next to her.  Nana picked up the small yellow kitten and allowed it to take the brown one’s spot.

“So, how does that work?”  The yellow kitten rolled on its back and Nana nuzzled its belly with a finger.

“Back when school started, I was riding in the car with daddy.  I was in the front seat.  Mom always yelled at him to put me in the back…but he said it was only a short drive…so it was okay.”  Nana paused as she scratched the kitten’s back.  “There was an accident.  Daddy…leaned over to protect me when it happened.  Daddy…died…there.”  Nana stopped playing with the kitten, which made it sit up in her lap and stare at her, waiting for her to resume playing with it.  “Dad died…and I wasn’t hurt.  Mom…was really angry at me for that.  She said if I wasn’t there…if I wasn’t in the front seat, Dad would still be here.”

“I see.  So…have you been under here since then?”  Nana shook her head.

“I’ve been home.  Just Mom doesn’t want me there.  She wouldn’t speak to me.  She would leave food out for me, but would never eat with me.  I got lonely, so yesterday I brought one of the kitties home.  Mom got really angry, and started yelling before going back into her room like she usually does.  So I left.”

“So you ran away from home, eh?”  Nana nodded wordlessly.  “I’d bet you’re pretty hungry then.”  Nana grimaced.

“Kinda.”

“Don’t want to go home, even to eat, eh?”

“Why bother…she’ll just yell at me again for running away.”  She paused before adding, “Besides…if I die from hunger, I’ll get to see Daddy again.”  Arte let out a long breath.

“Do you think he’d be happy if you died from starvation out here?”  Nana was silent for a long moment.

“I dunno…maybe.”

“He wouldn’t be.”  Nana drew her knees up to her chest.  The yellow kitten in her lap crawled up her leg and hopped onto her shoulder and nuzzled against her neck.

“How would you know?”  Her voice, still monotone, pulsed with hidden emotion.

“No parent wants to see his precious little daughter unhappy, let alone be in pain.”

“Not mine.”  Nana pressed her face into her knees.

“If your parents didn’t care about you…why would your dad protect you like he did?”

“I…don’t know.”  He reached out a hand and patted her hair again.

“I know that if you were my little girl, I’d never want to see you hurt or cry.”  She raised her head slightly and looked at him with one eye.

“You miss your dad?”  She nodded.  “You’re lonely, right?”  She paused, nodded again.  “Don’t you think…your mom might feel that way too?”  She raised her head and turned to Arte.

“Well, you both lost someone important to you, right?  It’d make sense that she feels as lonely as you do.”

“But…she yelled at me.”

“Well…maybe she snapped because she has no one to talk to?  You said she doesn’t talk to you…but have you tried to talk to her?”  Nana thought a moment before shaking her head.

“I’d wager your mom is as troubled as you are right now, probably more.”

“More?”

“Well, she lost one of the most important people to her…and now another important person has vanished too.”

“Another important person?”  She blinked, not understanding.

“You, of course, silly.  I bet she’s worried to death about you.”

“I…dunno.”  She pressed her lips against her knees.  The rain began to let up and sun peeked through the clouds.

“Well…would it hurt to go see for yourself?”  Arte picked up the cat from his lap and set it on the ground before standing up and brushing himself off.  He turned to her and reached out a hand.  “Adults are really stubborn sometimes.  They act like they know a lot, but sometimes it’s really hard to own up to how they feel and take the first step to fix a problem.”  Nana looked at the hand a long moment in silence.

“Really?”

“Really.  Pretty childish of them, huh?”  Nana nodded and reached out her hand.  Arte grabbed it and yanked Nana to her feet.  He brushed some dirt off her and looked her in the eyes.  “So why don’t we go see how that childish mom of your is doing?”  Nana bit her lip, but nodded.

“…’Kay.”  They stepped out from the stairwell as faint beams of light through the clouds coursed past them.

Nana directed Arte through several blocks until they came to a line of houses enclosed by tall stone fences.  Nana patted the small yellow kitten still on her shoulder as she murmured, “This is my house.”

“Hmm, it’s a pretty nice place.”  Arte rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

“I…kinda like it.  But my mom-”

Nana!”  A hysteric yell came from the house as the pair heard a fury of footsteps rush to the open gate at the end of the driveway.  Nana ducked behind Arte’s leg as a frantic woman appeared.  “Nana, where have you been?!  I’ve been so worried about you!”

“You were…worried about me?”  Nana stepped out cautiously as the woman scooped Nana up in her arms.

“Of course I was worried about you, you silly girl!”  The woman squeezed her head into Nana’s small neck and bawled openly.

“Are you gonna yell at me again?”

“Yell…at…you?”  The woman choked out between sobs.  The woman pulled back slightly to look Nana in the eyes.

“Like you did…the other day.  Or…when Dad died.”  The woman lovingly ran her hands through Nana’s hair and across her face.

“I’m sorry baby.  I’m so sorry I did those things.  After your daddy was gone, I didn’t know what to do, and I was so sad…”  The woman pulled Nana in for a hug so tight it made Nana grunt as the air was squeezed out of her.  “I promise Momma won’t yell at you any more, baby.  Momma promises-”  The woman broke off into sobs as Nana struggled for air.

“Mom, you’re squishing me.”  The woman let up slightly.

“I’m sorry baby, I’m just so glad you’re back.”

“It was my friend who brought me back, he’s right-”  Nana turned her head, but no one was in sight.  “Where’d he go?”  The woman and Nana both looked around, but no one else was around.

“There was a young man with you…where could he have gone off to?”  Nana thought a moment.

“Maybe he was an angel, Mom.”

“An angel?”

“Well, you said before angels come and help people when they need it, right?  Maybe he was an angel daddy sent to find me.”  The woman pulled Nana back into a tight hug.

“I’m sure he was, baby.  I’m sure that’s exactly what he was.”  The pair heard quiet mewing around their feet and saw several cats appear, and then more.

“They’re my friends.”  The woman smiled through her tears.

“Your friends?  Well…I guess you can keep one.”

“But they’re all my friends.”  The woman looked at the crowd of cats surrounding them and sighed.

“Well, we’ll talk about it after I get some food in you, okay?”  Nana nodded and turned to a lone brown cat staring at them from around a corner.

“Come on, Felicious.  Mom’s gonna feed us.”  The woman raised an eyebrow as she glanced between Nana and the cat.

“…Felicious?”

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