Errand Runners

In Nova City, sixteen-year old Nole does what he has to in order to provide for his brother and sister, but after coming into contact with a mysterious teenager, their stable way of life begins to crumble as Nole is suddenly targeted for a crime he didn't commit. With lethal gangs and brutal city Enforcers, he must navigate his way through the corrupt city system in order to keep him and his siblings alive.

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2. ONE

Nole gazed up at the night sky from where he lay on his futon, listening to the peaceful snores of his siblings. He had tried a few times to get some rest, but as usual, sleep eluded him. Late at night was one of the few times during the day in which he felt no pressure; no pressure to provide for Caden and Suri, and no pressure to survive. The downside was that he always spent that time overthinking the past.

“One year ago tomorrow,” he murmured to himself quietly. He replayed the day in his head, every small detail vividly recalled in his imagination. Although he tried to force the appalling thoughts out of his mind, it was futile. He glanced over at Caden and Suri, still sound asleep. If anything, he wished only he carried those chilling memories.

Knowing that sleep was no longer an option, he sat up and approached his siblings, careful not to disturb them. He readjusted Suri’s blanket, tucking it in around her snugly, and checked on Caden. Nole sat by his brother’s bedside and let out long breath. “You guys always look innocent when you sleep,” he whispered to sleeping ears. “I wish you were this peaceful the other sixteen hours of the day.” He smiled as he went on, “It’s pretty remarkable, though, considering all we’ve been through.”

When he thought about it, during the past year Suri had become more fragile to his absences, often growing exceedingly anxious before he left each day. Caden on the other hand, had become noticeably distant, constantly avoiding interaction with his older brother. They were both more independent, occasionally going off into Nova City alone despite his strict rules. The behavior was more common for Caden, but Suri had done it a few times as well.

Nole tucked Caden in as he had done to Suri, and let his hand linger on his brother’s small shoulder. He couldn’t help but feel like he was failing them. “I really am trying, guys. I know this isn’t the best situation,” he paused, looking around their rooftop home, “but it’s something.”He rose and quietly climbed down the fire escape of the rooftop. It was notorious for squeaking at the slightest movement, but Nole discovered a way to maneuver it so that it produced no noise whatsoever.

When he got to the bottom, he did a perimeter walk of the building. Despite the fact that he and his siblings discovered the City Library to be uninhabited when they first found it a year ago, it wasn’t uncommon for people to linger around the property as they came and went. For that reason they had decided to live on the roof instead of the inside. And although it wasn’t as sheltered as the interior, he had tried his best to create the safest living conditions possible for them.

Thanks to the gangs, the ways of Nova City’s night and day life were on opposite ends of the spectrum. Day life was bustling and loud, while night life was sparse and threatening; so while trekking through the dark alley, he was especially cautious. Even though it was the dead of night, he heard a few people walking around. Not wanting any trouble, he hid until they passed and were out of sight.

There were never civilians out after daylight hours because of the growing gang population overtaking the city. Growing up in the town’s outskirts, Nole witnessed the gang violence first hand at a very young age. And when he lost his mother to gang violence, he learned right away that they meant business.

No one really knew what instigated the new gang era taking over the city, but due to the rising number of citizens moving from the outer edge to the city’s center, it became widely believed that the outskirts were where the gangs originated.

Despite the temporary relief he and his siblings experienced during their first few days living in the city, it was short-lived when the violence followed shortly thereafter. Eventually, the citizens found nowhere else to go. With the outskirts riddled with gang members, everyone was essentially surrounded and forced to live in the core of Nova City.

At five years old, before all the gangs, Nole used to visit the city with his mother and his newborn brother. It used to be so boisterous and pristine. Even the mayor would tramp down the streets himself because of how safe it was.

The last time he’d seen the mayor was in a photograph from an old newspaper that featured an article about his promise to stop the rising gang violence. The endeavor hadn’t been very successful.

Once the gangs emerged, everything went to ruin. Eventually, there were more gang members than civilians and innocent people were killed like it was nothing, like they were nothing- innocent people like his mother.

Although City Enforcers did what they could to keep the group in check, they were drastically outnumbered. Additionally, there were no night shifts for the city’s law enforcement; a controversial policy instigated by the Chief of Enforcers more than a year ago. The force itself boasted many skilled captains and lieutenants, but the scores of inexperienced rookies allowed gangs to gain the upper hand.

Nole never required their help though, and for that reason, he made sure to do his research when it came to a gang’s strength. In doing so, he decided he’d never target any of the more dangerous top three groups.

A majority of the citizens had a good grasp of the eight main gangs inhabiting Nova City. Their strength in numbers was how they coined the name Nova City’s Great Eight Gangs. Each of them was associated with a shape with sides ranging from two to nine, and they were also named after these shapes.

For instance, the two-sided gang was the Paras, symbolized with two parallel lines, and the nine-sided gang was the Nons, symbolized with a nonagon. Each respective gang took pride in their shapes, leaving various locations of Nova City branded with their mark, and even tattooing it to their body as a sign of allegiance.

There was a rumor that the amount of sides on a gang’s symbol corresponded to their strength. The fewer the amount of sides on the shape, the stronger the gang. This made the Paras, Triads, and Quads considerably stronger than the Pents, Hexes, Septas, Octas, and Nons. However, that was only a rumor. It had no concrete basis because no one knew anything about any gangs, unless they were in it themselves. Nole believed in the theory though.

As he strolled down abandoned avenues, intent on clearing his restless mind, the thoughts persisted. He weighed the odds of Caden and Suri waking up while he was out. Even though it was unlikely, it had happened once, the first time Nole had set out in the middle of the night while they slept. It was about one week after their relocation; long before gaining insight into the city’s delicate gang system.

It was his very first time stealing from anyone, but he knew he had to provide for Caden and Suri in absence of their mother. While he was out, he made the rookie mistake of targeting anyone he encountered, and because of his ignorance, Nole foolishly targeted the first man he came across.

I was so naïve, he admitted to himself in hindsight. He touched the raised skin on the right side of his waist, feeling the permanent scar representing his mistake that day. Back then, he never would have thought his target would be carrying a gun, so when Nole demanded the man’s money, he was met with a pistol embellished with a square insignia. He was a Quad member.

Nole was lucky to escape with only a grazed waist, but the scar it left, both physically and mentally, would never leave him. Arriving to the rooftop late the next day, barely recovered, he found his then ten year old sister desperately crying as she screamed his name down the side of the building. Caden had tried to pacify her, but she only stopped when Nole returned. And even though he apologized profusely, he wasn’t sure she ever fully forgave him for it. He never forgave himself for it either.

He decided to never tell them he’d been shot. He knew that the worry they felt when he was out was enough for them to bear.

Finally making it to the City Square, Nole was already thinking about the day to come. We should do something, but what? He spotted the fountain in the center of the leveled area and approached it. Sitting on the marble edge, he couldn’t help but marvel at its unblemished condition. Despite the constant turmoil happening ­around them, the fountain was one of the most heavily guarded spots in Nova City. If anyone vandalized, or so much as took water from the fountain, they were punished severely. To the Chief of Enforcers, the fountain was a symbol of city, and he would allow no one to tarnish it.

He stared into the shallow puddle inside. The fountain itself wasn’t turned on due to the regressing state of the city. Citizens had even resorted to stealing from the fountain for their own drinking supply. After a while, the Chief decided that it was in the city’s best interests to have the fountain turned off between sundown and the next day’s dawn. In doing so, he would accommodate the Enforcers’ working hours, which would in tu­rn prevent such theft from occurring. However, the policy didn’t stop people from taking what was left over once the day ended, which was why only a puddle remained at that point.

Thanks to his resourcefulness, Nole was never required to participate in the desperate actions normalized by helpless civilians. They had an inexhaustible supply of water on the rooftop, and Nole was always able to provide the other necessities.

He knew Suri thought he bought them with money earned from a job. Little did she know, he didn’t work. However, Caden wasn’t as naïve as Suri. His younger brother often made sly remarks about how they were able to live so bearably despite the degenerating state of the city.

Contrary to his brother’s beliefs, the fact that he only stole from gang members was no consolation to Nole. He hated that having to sink to their level to survive. He hated having to become one of them.

I should be heading back, he urged himself.

He hoisted himself off of the fountain’s edge. When he heard a sudden noise, he quickly hid himself in a corner of City Square, waiting for his company to pass. When the ruckus persisted after a few minutes, he peeked around to have a look, but there was no one in sight. He listened closely to locate where it was coming from, and as he concentrated, he discerned the particular clamor of fighting.

Probably two gang members. He knew he wasn’t getting involved. The problem was that the noise was coming from the alleyway leading back to the library. There were other routes, of course, but that one was the fastest and it had been nearly an hour since he left the rooftop, not to mention the fact that he didn’t want to risk running into anyone else by taking another way. If opposing gang members were fighting, it was likely that others would be coming to join the fray, and Nole did not want to get involved in such an altercation, especially at such an ungodly hour.

When he heard someone cry out, the ruckus of the scuffle died down. It’s over, he thought, waiting until the remaining footsteps vanished. After five minutes passed without another sound, he edged into the dark alley, careful not to make any noise in case someone was still around. The distinct sound of broken glass made his body rigid in angst, but to his relief, he discovered the jagged-edged piece lying beneath his sneaker. Calm down. He mentally chastised himself.

At that moment, he heard what sounded like muffled groans. He cautiously looked around, picking up the shard of broken glass just in case he wasn’t alone. As he inched down the alley, the noise steadily grew louder.

His eyes scanned the scene as they slowly adjusted to the dark surroundings. A miniscule movement caught his eye and he prepared to attack, but nothing came at him. He looked closer and noticed that the movement he saw wasn’t an attack, but a gesture.

A man, injured and helpless, was sitting on the ground, his back against the brick wall, reaching out to Nole.

“H-hey,” a gruff voice called out to him hoarsely, accompanied with a lazily raised arm. “If you’re going to use that shard of glass to kill me, please don’t aim for the face.” Nole was surprised to see a guy in that condition alive, let alone making jokes. He also detected the youth in the stranger’s voice.

“I’m not going to kill you,” Nole replied without thinking. He had decided that there was nothing threatening about the boy. After all, he looked like he was already on the brink of death. The stranger didn’t reply, he merely continued to breathe heavily. Neither of them spoke or moved for what seemed like a few minutes.

“Well,” he said, breaking the silence, “Would you mind helping me out?”

“I don’t even know who you are, or even what gang you’re in.”

“I’m not part of a gang,” he defended himself, a fit of coughing following the statement. As Nole’s eyes further adjusted to the darkness, he saw the boy was clutching his stomach with his left hand.

“Yeah right,” Nole said sarcastically, easily dismissing him. “That makes perfect sense by the state you’re in.”

“I guess you’ve got me there,” he yielded. “It’s a pretty long story, but as you can see, I don’t have much time to tell it.” He lifted his left hand and revealed a steady flow of blood exiting from a wound on his stomach. Nole kept his poker face on, but even he could recognize the severity of the wound. “Could you at least deliver a message for me?”

Nole didn’t respond, but his company continued, “There’s a woman named Betty. Can you tell her I’m sorry? And can you please tell Valerie,” he hesitated. “N-never mind.” Nole didn’t know if it was shock or desperation that made the boy think Nole knew who either of these people were, but before he could point out that these people were strangers to him, the boy passed out.

Nole dropped the piece of glass and kneeled beside to stranger. Getting a better look at him, he confirmed his suspicion about the stranger being young. Maybe my age, he guessed.

His arms were limp and his breaths few and far between. Despite his better judgment, Nole took off his jacket and used it to apply pressure to the knife wound, then hoisted him up onto his back, shocked by how little he weighed.

Even though it was possible that the boy was indeed a gang member, Nole didn’t make that the deciding factor. He had people he cared about, people he thought of even at death’s doorstep, and Nole could sympathize with that.

If someone had felt the same way about mom… his thoughts trailed off bitterly. But however good Nole’s intentions were, he had no idea that his actions that night would affect the rest of his life and the future of the entire city.

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