"Courier's Creed" by Gabriel Gadfly
Hermes Swift was fifteen and he was the junior apprentice postman of the Lionsfort Post Office, which meant his Saturday evenings were spent in a cramped, dusty room full of letters. It was his job to sort them into bins for the East Lionsfort Postal Route and the West Lionsfort Postal Route. Come Monday, his grandfather and father, the Postmaster and Assistant Postmaster of Lionsfort, respectively, would load the bins into their mail trucks, and deliver them to the citizens of the town.
Hermes hated his job; it was boring work, and he felt there were better things he could be doing on Saturday nights, like going on dates with girls.
Today was not Saturday. It was Sunday, and Hermes sat at dinner with his family. His grandfather, the eldest Swift, sat at the head of the table. Hermes sat to his grandfather's left; across the table sat Paul, Hermes' brother. Their father took the remaining spot.
Hermes' grandfather spoke first.
"Did you get the letters packed, Hermes?"
"Mostly," Hermes replied, shoveling a spoonful of mashed potatoes into his mouth.
"Mostly?" Hermes' father said, glancing up from his plate. "What does 'mostly' mean?"
"There's a few left. I figured we could just put them on the Tuesday delivery," Hermes replied. His grandfather made a disapproving sound.
"It's our duty as postmen to deliver the mail as soon as possible, Hermes," he said.
"I mean--it's not that big of a deal—right?"
"You'll just have to go back to the office and finish after dinner," his father said.
Hermes stared at his father.
"But it's just a few stupid letters!"
"Stupid letters?" His grandfather scoffed. "Young man, letters are a postman's life."
"Anyway, if you'd finished last night, you wouldn't have to do it tonight," his father added.
"Why can't Paul do it?" Hermes said, glancing across the table at his brother. Paul kept silent throughout the exchange, and didn't look up.
"Your brother has to practice for his show," his father said. Paul was four years older than Hermes, and took after their mother: he was good-looking and popular, with blond hair and broad shoulders. Paul was also a talented musician, an athlete, and half a dozen other things that Hermes didn't care to think about.
Paul looked up from his plate and grinned.
"Sucks to be you, twerp."
Hermes threw down his fork in disgust, and pushed away from the table.
"Fine," he said. "I'll be back later."
"Where are you going?" his grandfather asked.
"Where else?" Hermes said. He grabbed his coat, and left the house with a satisfying slam of the door.
Hermes jammed his hands into his pockets and started walking. It was still an hour or two until sundown, but stormclouds hung low in the sky, casting a dusky light on the town. The angry clouds reflected his mood.
Paul was always getting privileges on account of being older or more talented. Paul was “going places,” people said. But Hermes' grandfather—and his father, by proxy—were sticklers for tradition. A Swift had been the Lionsfort Postmaster for generations, and someone had to continue the tradition. If Paul was to become a rock star or actor or whatever wonderful career he was destined for, someone had to stay behind to pick up the mantle of Lionsfort Postmaster. Hermes felt doomed to it.
It was a short walk to the post office; the family had decided long ago to live close to their place of work. The Lionsfort Post Office, a squat building of dark red brick, was one of the oldest buildings in town. It looked like it could fall down at any minute. A tarnished bronze plaque on the wall declared it a member of the National Register of Historic Places; Hermes assumed this was a big deal. He pushed his key into the lock and opened the door.
Hermes felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. In the darkness of the little post office, he could hear ragged breathing. He reached for the light switch, hesitated for a moment, then flicked it on. Something made a startled motion and a stack of boxes crashed to the ground. Hermes yelped, jerked away from the sound, and banged his head on the bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. A strong hand gripped his arm and yanked him away from the door. A man's face came into view. Hermes heard the door slam shut.
Wide, panicked eyes bored into Hermes, peering out from beneath a shaggy mane of dark hair. The stranger wore weird clothes: a wool coat in a style a century too old, with gleaming brass buttons. A white bandana was tied around his throat. His clothes were splashed with mud, and a strong odor of unwashed flesh filled the air around him.
"What's the name of this Node?" the stranger rasped. His acrid breath stung Hermes' nostrils.
"Node? Y-you're in Lionsfort," Hermes said. "Are you okay?"
The man's coat was stained dark crimson along his left side, and his arm hung limply from the shoulder. Slick droplets dripped off his fingers, and pattered on the floor.
The power flickered out.
"It's coming. The Creeper's coming," the man whispered. Even in the dark, Hermes could see the whites of the man's desperate eyes.
"Quickly, boy, where's the Postmaster?" his grip tightened on Hermes' arm. The Postmaster? That was Hermes' grandfather. Did this man know him? What could this psycho possibly want with his grandfather? The man shook Hermes.
"He-he's not here. It's Sunday."
"NO! I need him!"
Hermes was too startled by the man's howl to reply, but a moment later, the stranger's face relaxed. The man took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly.
"Very well. Repeat after me, boy." There was a different tone to the man's voice, an unsettling reserved edge.
"Neither blade nor bow nor tyrant's might."
The man shook him so hard, Hermes thought he could feel his brain rattling around.
"Say it, you ignorant mule! Neither blade nor bow nor tyrant's might."
"N-neither blade nor bow nor tyrant's might."
"Nor flame nor frost nor gloom of night." As the man spoke, Hermes became aware of a dull hum in the background. The sound made Hermes' skin tingle, as if it made the very air vibrate.
"Nor flame nor frost nor gloom of night," Hermes said. This was crazy. This guy was crazy.
"Shall blind from sight this Courier's road."
"Shall blind...shall blind from sight this Courier's road," Hermes repeated. Courier? That was a type of messenger. What was this about? The hum rose to an angry whine, one of those sounds that made your ears strain towards it, even though it hurt them.
"And prevent delivery of the Edict bestowed."
"And prevent delivery of the Edict bestowed."
There was a quiet moment, then the man nodded.
"You're a Courier now, boy," the stranger said. Then he added, "I'm sorry."
Then something strange happened: a red splotch appeared on the man's white bandana, slowly spreading out. A strange grin crossed the man's lips, but the panic in his eyes seemed to dim.
"Hey -- what's wrong with your neck?"
The man pushed a small paper envelope into his hands, then shoved him hard in the chest. Hermes fell back against the wall, but the expected impact didn't happen—he felt a sick sensation in his stomach, like someone had just grabbed a fistful of his guts and yanked him backwards by them. At the same time, there was a furious roar, like a jet engine on fire. Before the world fell away, Hermes felt the building around him shake and shudder.
Hermes fell through the wall, into blackness.
About the Author: Gabriel Gadfly is a poet and novelist self-publishing the bulk of his work on his website GabrielGadfly.com. He is an avid supporter of independent authors and the weblit community. This piece is the first chapter of Courier's Creed, an interdimensional fantasy webnovel. Click here to read the rest of Courier's Creed.