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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3. TWO

This seemed like a better idea in my head. Nole grunted, lifting the stranger through the dark streets. He was aware the boy was in need of immediate care, so he moved as quickly as possible. Given the situation, he no longer listened for incoming footsteps or stray voices.

Every rational part of his brain questioned his actions. Although he never used weapons on any of his targets, he often left them battered and bleeding just like his cargo. Nole could relate to the boy. However, even if he wasn’t necessarily Nole’s enemy, he certainly wasn’t his friend either. The library is technically on the way, he justified himself.

Nole continued to contemplate his actions up to arriving to his destination; a run-down shed two blocks away from his home. He bypassed the door of the small shack and lightly knocked on the window. The darkness in the sky was fading as a light from inside came on. A pair of squinting, blue, bifocal eyes emerged from the drawn curtains of the window. They analyzed Nole, who jerked his head in the direction of the stranger he was carrying. The eyes widened with surprise after seeing the body on Nole’s back. At almost the same instant, they vanished from the window and the nearby door opened.

“Nole!” exclaimed the old man, his long gray hair in ruffled clumps, “I thought I told you I don’t work nights!”

“Hey, Murphy,” Nole greeted his friend. “Sorry, I don’t really have much of a choice.” Murphy sighed, which Nole took as agreement.

“Go ahead and take him downstairs.”

Nole silently did as he was told and went inside the cramped shack. The ground floor was tiny, with a lackluster kitchen area and a minimally furnished living room. There were two raggedly worn armchairs, one of which Murphy was sleeping in as evidenced by the pillow and blanket draped over the cushion. There was also a coffee table burdened with dozens of file folders and a tiny antenna television.

“You really need a receptionist,” Nole teased, referring to the stacks of documents on the table.

Although it appeared to be a small, single-floored living space, the shack was actually home to Murphy’s underground doctoral business. In fact, the closet led to a large underground extension where he studied his practice. It was the same room Murphy had treated Nole’s gunshot wound when they first met. “A literal underground doctor!” Nole remembered the doctor’s explanation.

After receiving his treatment, Nole immediately made a friend in Murphy; often going to him for advice whenever Caden or Suri fell ill. And despite his shabby living conditions, he never took a dime from Nole. From then on, Nole viewed Murphy as a father figure, in place of the man that abandoned them after Suri was born.

The doctor followed close behind Nole as they made their way down the staircase. When they reached the bottom of the steps, he helped Nole ease the injured boy onto one of the lightly furnished tables that Murphy used as makeshift hospital beds for his patients.

 “What happened to your friend?” Dr. Murphy inquired casually, removing the bloodied jacket from the injury’s surface.

“I found him like that,” Nole stated flatly, which he immediately thought sounded like a lame excuse. He could tell Murphy agreed by the suspicious look he threw him over the rims of his glasses. “And he’s not my friend.”

“Okay, then who is he?” He retrieved his medicinal bag from the cabinet underneath the staircase and recovered a few instruments from inside. He snapped on a pair of rubber gloves and pulled out a bottle of clear liquid.

“Some guy I found.” Nole was aware that it sounded like a sarcastic response, but it was true. Nevertheless, Murphy continued working with swift, precise hands.

“He looks to be around your age; sixteen or so.” He poured a little of the clear liquid over the wound, removing the dried blood from around the injury. The stench of alcohol permeated the air, replacing the coppery smell of the blood that steadily flowed from the wound. Murphy then recovered a needle and a spool from the bag. “It’s a good thing he’s unconscious.”

Nole studied the boy on the table, even going as far as comparing him to his younger brother. The sandy color of his hair resembled that of Caden’s, and although he might have been around the same age as Nole, his build made him look to be a year or two younger.

“I’ll wait upstairs.” Nole excused himself. Murphy didn’t respond, which was normal whenever he was with a patient.

When he returned to the main floor, Nole sat in one of the two armchairs in the middle of the room. He discovered his hands were smeared with blood, not his own though. No wonder Murphy was suspicious. He stood up and retrieved a paper towel from the counter and wiped the blood off of his hands. While cleaning off his palms, he noticed the glow from the window. When he pushed the curtains aside, a yellowing sky was revealed.

Shoot! He ran to the downstairs entrance, tossing the dirty paper towel on the floor as he yelled to his friend, “Hey Murphy! I have to run. I’ll be back in an hour!” Even though he didn’t get an answer, Nole accepted the silence and quickly made his way out the door, hoping that his siblings were still asleep.

***

As Nole sprinted the two-block expanse between the shack and the library, the sunlight was beginning to peek over some of Nova’s oldest and tallest buildings. The brightening glow of the narrow alleyway encouraged him to hurry back before Caden and Suri awoke.

Once arriving to the library, he scrambled up the ladder quietly and spied over the ledge of the rooftop. To his relief, Caden and Suri were still lying in their beds. As he hopped over the edge of the building, he was startled by a voice.

“Why is there blood all over your shirt?” interrogated a wide-awake Caden. Nole turned to his younger brother, who was staring at him with a critical eye. He looked down at his shirt and saw no blood. “On your back,” Caden added. Nole glanced over his shoulder and saw the bloody blotch covering his shirt.

“Oh, uh, it’s not mine,” he stumbled. Even though Caden had caught him sneaking in, he didn’t want to tell him about the injured stranger. To Nole’s relief, Caden turned his back to his brother in an act of disinterest. “You’re lucky she’s a heavy sleeper.”

Nole took off his shirt and disposed of it before Suri roused. Part of him wanted to give Caden an explanation, just to defend himself, but he couldn’t. He didn’t want to make matters worse by making excuses. Caden never said so, but Nole knew his younger brother didn’t think much of him. Despite their four-year age difference, Caden acted like he and Nole were on equal ground.

Even though they weren’t necessarily close before their mother passed away, their relationship had severely deteriorated over the last year. In fact, the little conversations Nole initiated with Caden were always received with a curt response or nothing at all. At first Nole assumed the tension between them was a natural brotherly rivalry of sorts, but throughout the past year, he began to think that it was much more than that.

Caden walked to the makeshift restroom at the corner of the rooftop. It had walls like a stall that surrounded the improvised faucet and fully functional toilet Nole was able to build out of materials found within the library. Thanks to his handiwork, he had managed to secure a pipeline from one of the fountain’s underground systems to the rooftop; a blatant act of illegality. To Nole, if his siblings didn’t have to worry about the water shortage - a rare thing for any Nova City citizen- it was worth risking punishment from Enforcers.

Nole joined his twelve-year old brother, watching him cup his hands together and wash his face, splashing his short blonde hair in the process. Caden took his time rinsing the sleepiness from his muddy, brown eyes; the only trait all three siblings shared.

“Did you sleep well?” Nole asked.

“Not really,” his brother replied quickly, “you woke me up when you tucked me in.”

“Oh, sorry.” Nole was slightly embarrassed by the fact that Caden might have heard him speaking his mind. “Do you feel like grabbing breakfast?” he offered, trying to change the subject.

“I guess.”

To no surprise, Nole was unable to decipher his brother’s behavior. He thought he would be able to tell if his siblings remembered the anniversary of their mother’s death, but he was getting nowhere with Caden’s exasperated tone and superior attitude.

“Great,” Nole said both in response to Caden and himself. “We’ll head into the city after Suri wakes up.”

Caden exited the room and situated himself by the ledge of the building, rereading the previous day’s newspaper. Nole always made sure to grab that day’s paper whenever he went out. Not only did it keep them informed, but it also gave his siblings- particularly Caden- something to do within the boring confines of their rooftop sanctuary. Suri didn’t really like the content, but she was a dedicated fan of anything having to do with the fountain. In fact, Nole often took his siblings to City Square per Suri’s request to see it.

His brother on the other hand, had almost completely opposite interests. He primarily read the political news as well as anything having to do with gangs or Enforcers. He often caught his brother writing on these articles, but he had no clue what the scribbles were. Nole himself only skimmed the paper for important developments before passing it off to his siblings. Most of the news he got was the word of mouth variety he encountered during his daily outings.

Nole thoroughly rinsed his face trying to ward off any symptoms of drowsiness he could encounter as a result of his all-nighter. He then rejoined his brother at the building’s edge, where Caden continued to write, unperturbed by his brother’s presence. Nole set his legs in front of him, hung his arms over his bent knees, and let out a long breath.

 “I’m sure you already know what today is,” he began, turning to Caden. “Suri probably knows too.”

Nole couldn’t tell whether Caden’s lack of response was due to disinterest or the delicacy of the subject. “I was thinking that we could do something for her,” he offered. He had thought about this during his visit to the fountain. “Maybe we could say a few things.”

To Nole’s surprise, Caden’s pen stopped moving for a few seconds, and then picked up again. He wasn’t sure what kind of response it was, but at least it was something. I’ll just take that as a ‘Okay Nole, what a thoughtful idea. You’re such a good brother and I really appreciate how hard you’re trying.’

As if on cue, their younger sister’s yawn broke the momentary silence. Nole moseyed over to Suri, who was stretching her arms. He bit back a smile when he noticed her bedhead of light brown hair clumped on one side like a beehive.

“Morning, Sleeping Beauty,” Nole joked.

“Morning,” Suri cheerfully replied.

“We’re about to head out for breakfast, so hurry up and get ready.”

“Alright!” she said excitedly, running to the restroom. She came out shortly after, her hair soaking wet. She proceeded to shake herself dry like a dog, making Nole grin. Caden joined Nole, but put some distance between his older brother and himself as they waited for Suri’s morning routine to end.

While she combed her mangled locks, Nole arranged her futon to pass the time. Adjusting the flimsy pillow and second-hand bed sheets, he found Suri’s locket lying on the cushion. He looked over at his younger sister, who was finishing up, and clamped the necklace in his hand.

“Okay, I’m all set,” she announced, joining her brothers.

“Alright,” Nole said, “then let’s go grab some food.” He patted his pocket to make sure he had money on him and climbed over the building’s ledge and down the fire escape. “Suri, did you forget something?”

“What do you mean?” she asked confused. Nole replied by opening his palm and letting the chain of the locket hang loosely from his index finger. Suri instinctively touched her neck, surprised that she would forget her most prized possession. “It must have fallen off while I was sleeping,” she explained, gratefully taking the locket from Nole’s outstretched hand. “Thank you!”

“Make sure you take care of that. It’s important to all of us.” Even though he was slightly bothered by Suri’s carelessness, he could never stay mad at her for long.

“I know that!” Suri snapped defensively. Hooking the chain around her neck, she followed her brothers down the next flight of the fire escape. “It was Mom’s, after all.”

They all fell silent, aware that it was the anniversary of her death. “Do you guys want to have a memorial for her tonight?” Nole suggested. Caden and Suri didn’t say anything. Up until that day, they had never really talked about their mother, or anything from that day for that matter.

“I think that’s a good idea,” Suri agreed, touching her locket once more. “What do you think, Caden?”

“Whatever,” he answered dismissively. Nole was relieved to hear his brother’s approval, as minimal as it was.

“Let’s pick up a few things for it on the way back,” Nole said.

They began walking through the alleyway toward the center of the city. Although Nole had doubts about approaching the subject hours before, he was glad that they had all reached a consensus.

“What are we getting for breakfast?” Suri asked excitedly.

“Whatever you guys want,” Nole said with a grin. “I just have a something I have to take care of first.”

***

“Nole,” Suri whined, “I’m hungry.”

Nole knocked on the door to Murphy’s shack. “I just have to see Murphy about something,” he appeased her as she kicked the dirt with the toe of her sneaker, creating a cloud of dust. Caden stood with his arms crossed over his chest, clearly disapproving of Nole’s behavior.

“I’m going to eat. There’s a place near here,” Caden stated. Suri’s eyes lit up. Nole was aware that his brother was being deliberately disobedient, but he didn’t disagree with the idea. He didn’t want his siblings meeting the potentially dangerous boy he had rescued the night before and he didn’t want Suri finding out he had left while they were sleeping.

He bit his lip in apprehension. It’s too early for any gang activity, and all the civilians are out now as well. They should be safe. Even though his reasoning made sense to him, he still felt a twinge of guilt. They’ll be okay, he decided.

“Fine,” he agreed, “but don’t go far and stay together. Suri, Caden’s in charge.”

“He’s only a year older than I am,” Suri pointed out, slightly annoyed at being the youngest. Nole gave her a look and she sighed in agreement. He then handed Caden the money and watched as they left the leveled plot of land.

“Come on, Murphy,” he griped, knocking louder than before. “I guess he might be with another patient,” he deduced out loud. He made his way to the window, lightly tapping the glass for good measure. He picked up a large rock nearby and looked to see if anyone was around before smashing the glass. Sorry doc, I’m in a hurry here, he justified.

He climbed in through the window, careful of the dangerous edges he’d created. Bypassing the scattered papers and walked to the downstairs entrance where he heard rustling from the underground floor. Always busy he thought as he descended to meet Dr. Murphy.

“I know you’re pretty serious about your patients, but you should at least answer the door,” he scolded when he got to the bottom of the stairs. He didn’t see anyone there: no patients, no injured stranger, and no doctor. “Murphy?” he called out looking behind the patient curtains. “You down here?” he asked, agitated as he ripped open various curtains, “You’re beginning to remind me of Cad-“ he stopped.

The last curtain he pushed through wasn’t empty. Lying on the hospital bed, covered in his own blood, was a dead Murphy.

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