Paper Route: Part One
Art by nut862
He had taken wing before the crack of dawn, before the wild Weewoos had begun their morning song to awaken the others in the trees. Travis flew past birds curled up on tree branches, their heads snuggled into their feathers, slumbering with Neopia Central under the still darkened sky. Across it, the occasional speck of white went streaking like a falling star, the only thing stirring at this early hour. From the ground it was difficult to see them, but from up in the air Travis could make out the newspaper each Weewoo carried in its beak. Only these Weewoos had undertaken the duty of rising before any others, so that they might carry out their duty in time for all Neopians to find fresh copies of the Neopian Times on their doorsteps when they woke.
Travis had risen before any of the others, to do a duty smaller than any other. He flew to the Neopian Times office, where a storm of countless Weewoos was assaulting the presses as they darted in and out to pick up fresh newspapers and fly back out again for their next delivery. Joining the cloud of flying feathers and beating wings, Travis got his beak around a newspaper and clamped down hard, dragging it along with him as he pushed his way to the window and escaped into the free air along with a flood of other Weewoos.
The cloud of Weewoos dispersed above the Neopian Times office building, all heading off in the directions their routes took them. Many would circle the globe before returning, delivering papers to pets in faraway lands where it was already midday. Weewoos with similar routes went in groups or pairs, flying off together in amiable silence due to the large newspapers that prevented them from using their beaks for conversation. Travis flew off alone, catching an air current and separating from all the other Weewoos. He made his way across the sky, a tiny white speck against the slowly fading dark, taking the precious newspaper to the first stop on his route.
He alighted at the window of a weathered old house standing on a lonely hill at the outskirts of Neopia Central. From here the colorful rooftops of the shops below could be seen as a bright patchwork, a sight rarely afforded to anyone unable to fly. Travis opened his beak and let the rolled-up newspaper fall to the windowsill. The familiar taste of paper and ink lingered in his mouth, and he sat back against the window frame to rest. He was in no hurry. This was the first stop on his route, and the only stop.
He watched the light start to glow on the horizon and looked on as the multicolored rooftops turned gold in the wake of the rising sun. Birds began to call around him, and Travis returned the greetings of a few local Weewoos. Down below, he knew that the shops were open for business and pets were moving around on the streets between them, specks of color to his Weewoo’s eye.
The window squeaked beside him, and Travis looked to his side to see the face of an old Aisha behind the glass. Mrs. Sammlung smiled at him, her eyes crinkling at the corners, as she raised the window and it slid into place with a thud. She picked up the newspaper with one withered paw and said, “Thank you, dear.”
“No problem,” Travis chirped back, knowing that she didn’t recognize his words. Though from the way she looked at him, he imagined that she understood all the same. He wished that there were a way to really talk to her.
She leaned one arm against the windowsill, close enough for Travis to climb up onto the skin spotted with age. “Do you know,” she whispered in her creaking voice, “I’ve had newspapers delivered to this house for sixty years and I never once saw the carriers before you came.”
“There’s a reason for that,” Travis said with a sigh, glancing out at the sky that was now bright and filled with the usual wild birds. The flock of white had long since finished its deliveries and had gone home to roost at the Neopian Times office.
“I know you’re the same one,” Mrs. Sammlung said, her old eyes twinkling at him. “You wait for me every day. I appreciate it, little one. I’m too old to be out and about the town with friends nowadays, and I don’t find many callers on this hill. It’s nice to see you here every day, even if I do know that you only come for this.” She laughed and laid a scrap of bread on the windowsill. “Good day, little one, and thank you for the newspaper.”
The window closed, and Travis watched the Grey Aisha turn her back and shuffle slowly away. He sighed again and glanced down at the piece of bread. It looked invitingly soft and fresh. In one quick gulp and swallow, the bread was gone and Travis was winging his way back to the Neopian Times office.
He swooped in through the window and alighted in front of the Head Weewoo’s desk. They were the only two birds in the room; the other Weewoos had already checked in and flown outside to enjoy the day. Travis was glad to have missed the crowd that occurred daily when they all came rushing in at the same time.
“Number 45807 reporting in, sir,” he said, with a deferential chirp to his superior officer. “I’ve finished my route.”
The Head Weewoo lifted a quill pen in his tiny talons and made a scratch on one of the papers littering his desk. He laid it down and cast a critical beady eye on Travis. “You’re always the last to report back, Travis.”
“I’m always the first one awake. Doesn’t that make up for it?”
The Head Weewoo ignored him and continued, “Every day that you’ve been in this service, you consistently return hours later than all the other Weewoos.”
“I get the papers delivered on time, I promise,” Travis said. “You know I do. Just ask the Weewoos that live in Mrs. Sammlung’s trees.”
“I’m aware of your punctuality, Travis, and of the treats that keep you waiting day after day.”
“What, the bread?” Travis said indignantly. “I don’t really wait just for that! What does it matter how long I stay, anyway, when there’s only one stop on my route? I certainly don’t have anywhere else to go.”
The Head Weewoo sighed. “If you could only be as loyal to the Neopian Times as to the old Aisha, perhaps you’d get a better route like you so desperately want. If you’d talk to the other Weewoos, maybe it could be arranged for you to take on some of their work. When you avoid them all and spend your time hanging about pets, they don’t know what to make of you. I don’t know whether I can trust you myself.”
“Why on Neopia shouldn’t you trust me? I do the exact same thing every day. Was there any time in all my years of service here that you couldn’t trust me to deliver that paper and then come back here?”
“Come back five hours late, you mean.” The Head Weewoo gave him a weary look. “No, it’s not about your delivery skills, Travis. I’m concerned about you. You never got along with the other Weewoos.”
“It’s hard when they make such a racket, flying all together in such a crowd that you can hardly find yourself,” Travis sniffed.
“And you’ve grown so attached to the Aisha. You spend your off hours poring over the Neopian Times while the other Weewoos are out flying with their friends. You read all those stories written by pets, about pets. I wonder, Travis, is this job what you want to be doing with your life? Wouldn’t you rather have a home among the pets you seem so fascinated with? Are you sure you wouldn’t be happier living as a Petpet?”
“No!” Travis cried. “I love the Neopian Times, sir, not any pet! I couldn’t leave this job and be cooped up in a house while another Weewoo took newspapers to Mrs. Sammlung. Why, if I were someone’s Petpet, I might not even be allowed to read the Neopian Times.”
“Hmm.” The Head Weewoo was looking at him with more concern by the moment. “We find it an oddity, you know, that you read those papers at all. It’s our duty to deliver them, out of respect and loyalty to this fine sanctuary where we’ve lived peacefully through all the years that the Neopian Times has been in publication. But to have learned to piece together stories from the scribbled ink... it’s strange, Travis.”
“I know,” Travis said resignedly. “I’m really weird.”
“Perhaps even insane.”
“You’re certainly the craziest Weewoo I ever met.” The Head Weewoo cracked a smile. “Cheer up, Travis. If you really do care so much about this job, I’ll grant your wish. Starting next week, you’ll have a full route with multiple stops. Don’t look so surprised; did you think this would never happen? You’ve paid us too much loyal service for us to not reward you. Just remember not to dally anywhere from now on. Starting now, you have to take this business seriously.”
Travis was so overjoyed that he nearly flew a few inches right off the desk. “Yes, sir! Of course I will, sir! Thank you, sir!”
The Head Weewoo smiled. “You’ve done a good job, kid. Just report back to me on time from now on.” He nudged a copy of the Neopian Times that was lying next to his foot. “There’s this week’s issue. Figured you’d want to read it.”
“Thank you, sir!” Travis grabbed the newspaper in his beak, tearing a large hole out of the front page in his excitement. He flew outside and landed safely on a high tree branch, carefully laying down the newspaper and using his claws to pin it down as he spread out the pages so that they were resting comfortably on a web of branches. Leaning forward, he settled in to read the stories and articles that he enjoyed so much, inspiring tales that reflected the world of creative minds that formed the community of Neopian Times writers.
As an afterthought, he glanced at the issue number at the corner of the newspaper. It was the 449th edition. It was amazing, he thought, that so many weeks had gone by since the publication’s inception. It was amazing how much love and dedication had been poured into it by so many different pets over the years. It must be so wonderful for these writers and artists to unite in putting so much care into making this newspaper the best in Neopia. If only the other Weewoos appreciated the fruits of that effort; if only they knew the meaning of the Neopian Times beyond the words emblazoned on the building whose courtyard gave them shelter.
Travis glanced again at the issue number, and was struck with the realization of what it meant. Next week’s printing would be a special edition to celebrate the milestone of 450 issues. He’d be running his first major paper route while carrying the most important issue of the entire year.
There was no way he’d tarry anywhere next week, not for all the bread in Neopia.
To be continued...