Paper Route: Part Two
Art by nut862
He was there in the thick of the swarm when the following Friday rolled around, finding his way through the cloud of white Weewoos to the tables in front of the presses where fresh newspapers lay in tall stacks, the ink still gleaming wet on their pages. Travis grabbed one of the papers; the extra-thick edition fit uncomfortably into his beak, forcing him to open it wider than usual. With the special issue jammed awkwardly between his straining jaws, he turned and made an ungainly exit, nearly colliding with the rush of incoming Weewoos about to pick up their own burdens. Travis hardly noticed or even remembered what’d he’d just done once he was outside; his heart was pounding wildly as he tried to remember all the new stops on his route. He’d have to come right back to the office to pick up his next delivery once the first one was done; there would certainly be no dallying today. He’d show the Head Weewoo that he was serious about this job. Moreover, he was serious about the Neopian Times.
His first stop was still Mrs. Sammlung’s old house on the hill. He knew the route so well that he flew it without thinking, almost blind with excitement and anxiety as he winged his way through the air, his mouth going dry from staying open so wide.
It was his state of distraction that caused the accident. Not paying attention to the view ahead, Travis flew headfirst into another Weewoo that was barreling directly across his path. The impact shook his skull and all at once his wings fell limp at his sides; the darkened sky seem to rush away, and he saw above him an irate Weewoo trying to shriek complaints through the oversize newspaper wedged in its beak. Travis hardly knew what was happening until he found himself dropping past trees at an alarmingly swift rate; seized by a sudden panic, he flapped his wings wildly and swooped upwards in a dizzy arc, narrowly saving himself from collision with the ground. His head was still reeling from the shock it had received earlier, and for a few minutes he flew in confused circles, trying to regain his bearings. He found to his horror that he couldn’t remember where he was supposed to go after visiting Mrs. Sammlung. He thought in despair that all would be lost if he didn’t finish his new route; how could he have been so foolish as to let such an accident occur? The only good thing about this entire episode was that his mouth wasn’t dry anymore.
Pure horror set in as he realized the reason for this. His copy of the special Neopian Times issue was gone; he must have dropped it in the collision. He scanned his surroundings wildly, hoping to see it caught in a tree waiting for him to pick it up. No such luck. Panicking, he raced back through the sky, trying to retrace his flight. Where had he run into that other Weewoo? Somewhere above the Bazaar?
A speck of gray caught his keen eye as he was passing over the Petpet Shop. He circled down for a closer look, and felt an inward surge of triumph as he recognized the Neopian Times title spelled out across the top of the page. His lost newspaper had fallen in the yard of the Petpet Shop; he wouldn’t have to waste time going back to the Neopian Times office for a new copy. Diving down, he landed and grabbed hold of a corner of the newspaper, struggling to get his beak around it again.
It was yanked abruptly out of his grasp, and Travis fell forward in surprise, his beak closing on air. He looked up and saw a small Puppyblew gripping the newspaper in its mouth, the paper turning soggy with drool. To his horror, the Puppyblew proceeded to tear the Neopian Times apart, wagging its tail all the while as if it enjoyed mauling the helpless newspaper.
“Hey! You! Stop that!” Travis cried in a stream of outraged chirps. “Look what you’re doing! Stop it! Oh, there’s no use saving it now!”
The Puppyblew cocked its head at him and let out a jovial bark, strips of paper dangling from its teeth.
“Go on and grin at me, why don’t you,” Travis grumbled. “It’s yours now, anyway. Oh yes, you think just because you don’t have a job to do, you can play with anything you like, don’t you? You know, some of us--”
His rant was rudely ended by a pair of paws seizing him around the neck, cutting off the flow of air to his beak. He gasped and struggled in their grip, letting out choked squawks of indignance.
“Shopkeeper!” yelled a high-pitched voice. “I’ll give you twenty-two thousand, two hundred and twenty-two Neopoints for this! Get out here and take my money!”
Other paws grabbed Travis by the claws and tail feathers, trying to yank him in other directions. Travis found himself losing the will even to emit strangled shrieks.
“I’ll give thirty thousand! Come on, shopkeeper, take it!”
“I saw it first! It’s mine!” A thud and a jingle of coins led Travis to assume that a bag of money had just been slammed down on the sales counter. The other grasping hands released him, leaving him with only one paw clutching him round the neck. He flapped his wings wildly, but the paw only tightened its grip and held him farther away from the body it belonged to, giving him a clear view of his captor’s face.
She was a young Pink Aisha, and the smile she gave him betrayed a disturbing amount of affection. “I can’t believe my luck! I had no idea they even sold these here. Granny will love this!”
Travis couldn’t remember where he was supposed to go after Mrs. Sammlung’s house, and he no longer cared. As the little Aisha carried him off down the streets, all he could think about was old Mrs. Sammlung waking up and shuffling to her windowsill, only to find it empty, and him never being able to explain what had happened. Maybe he’d never come back to her house again, and she would have no idea where he’d gone. She wouldn’t complain to the Neopian Times office; she was too nice for that. Maybe she’d just assume he had gotten tired of her bread and flown off to join his wild friends. Some other Weewoo would take over his job, and it would just leave the newspaper on her sill and fly away without a word to the lonely old woman.
Not that Travis had ever been able to say a word to her, either. Not in all the years he had dutifully flown newspapers to her windowsill before dawn every morning. She couldn’t understand his chirps, and he couldn’t make his beak utter the pets’ speech, however often he read their words in the Neopian Times. She thought he only waited for her every day because he wanted the food she always gave him. How could he tell her how much he would have loved to have a real conversation with someone else who read and appreciated the Neopian Times as much as he did, how often he had wanted to discuss last week’s stories, how much he wished he could be more involved with the Neopian Times than only as a silent reader and deliverer? Alas, he was not a pet but a Weewoo--and should be grateful even for this, that he was permitted to live in the hallowed sanctuary of the Neopian Times. (Admittedly, it would have been the same if he’d been a Meepit, but somehow crawling around in office ducts would have felt less noble.)
So used to soaring high above it, Travis found it odd to see the world from street level as the Aisha carried him down the winding roads to a small cottage. As soon as the cottage door shut behind her, Travis found himself shoved into a narrow space and watched, to his horror, as another tiny wire door shut behind him. He flew against the bars of the cage, beating his wings against them and crying out.
“Ssh, ssh, it’s okay,” the Pink Aisha said, sitting down at the desk on which the cage was resting. “Are you hungry?” She tossed a scrap of bread through the bars.
It landed on the paper that lined the floor of the cage. Travis leaned down to peck at it, his eyes roving across the paper as his face drew closer to it. Faded columns of text covered the pages, so pale that the words were barely legible. Travis realized he was standing on an old issue of the Neopian Times.
He was reminded anew of the job he was supposed to be doing right then. He pushed his head through the bars of the cage and screamed in despair, “Let me out of here! I don’t want to be anyone’s Petpet!” Oh, if the Head Weewoo could see him now, surely he’d realize how ill-suited Travis was to this life. How laughable it was that he had even suggested it!
The little Aisha paid no attention to the screeching Weewoo, calmly taking a sheet of note paper and dipping a quill in ink. Travis stopped yelling and watched her write, fascinated by the process of forming letters on the page. Was this how all the Neopian Times authors pieced together their stories?
I was out shopping today and I bought something that I think you’ll like. Maybe you won’t be so lonely anymore now.
I know you wanted me to tell you all about what I’ve been doing lately, but I’m too busy to sit down and write it out. I know you love reading long stories, so I’m sorry mine are always so short. But I hope you like my present!
She turned the letter over and wrote an address on it. Travis’s eyes widened as he realized that it was the same address he’d memorized in all his years of delivering newspapers day after day, the only address on his paper route.
He was going to be taken to Mrs. Sammlung’s house in this undignified state, and he would have no paper to present her with. The copy of the Neopian Times that he had been tasked to deliver had been destroyed through his own foolish carelessness. He would never have time to reach the other houses on his new paper route now, and even if he did manage to persuade Mrs. Sammlung to release him through his poor cries, he might never be deemed trustworthy enough to work for the Neopian Times again.
But the worst thought of all was that Mrs. Sammlung wouldn’t get to read her newspaper today. He knew she looked forward to it so much; isolated in her lonely house, it was her link to the world outside, her way of living through the stories of other pets--just as it was to Travis a link to the community of pets even though he was only a Weewoo. He couldn’t disappoint Mrs. Sammlung on the day of the special issue. She’d probably been awaiting it eagerly for weeks.
The Pink Aisha stood up from the writing desk. “Granny won’t be awake yet,” she said. “I’ll have you brought over to her house in a few hours.”
Travis watched her leave the room. His eyes darted to the bottle of ink on the table; stretching his wing through the bars of his cage, he found it was just close enough for him to dip in his feathers. With his wingtip coated with black ink, he looked again at the faded newspapers under him and tried to remember how the Aisha had written those letters.
The Neopian Times was gone, but Travis would make sure that Mrs. Sammlung had something to read today.
To be continued...