Knights of the Press
Mark sat in his car in the quiet grocery store parking lot, waiting for his new boss to arrive.
“I'll be there, 4:00 A.M. sharp,” Greg had told him. Mark looked at the clock on his dashboard. It was 4:03. He yawned, almost cracking his jaw. Headlights flashed ahead and Mark hoped this was Greg. A blue Prius pulled in, paused and then headed in his direction. The car pulled up next to him and Mark hit the power button for his window. Across the way, the other driver did the same.
“You Mark?” the guy asked. His large head took up most of the window and Mark nodded. “Great! Let's move over to the bundles and load up your papers. We'll take my car today, it gets better mileage.” Greg's window went up and Mark simply nodded again, powering up his window as well. He pulled his keys from the ignition and got out, situating his crutches so as not to fall over when he shut the car door. Pocketing his keys, he walked over to Greg.
Greg was working his large form out of the small car as Mark approached. Greg finally extricated himself and stood up tall.
This is one big dude, Mark thought as he got closer.
“Hmm,” Greg frowned as Mark approached. “I didn't know you only had one leg. What happened?”
“Cancer when I was a kid,” Mark said. He was used to the question by now and told people freely whenever they asked, never getting offended by their curiosity. He had had fourteen years of practice in answering by now.
“Sucks. Well, I don't think it will be an issue, but if you don't think it will work out just gimme a call and I'll let you out of the contract. No big deal.”
“It shouldn't be an issue, I'm just driving and throwing papers, right?”
“Ha ha! Yeah, kid. Come on let's load these up, you'll get to see what this route is all about.”
Greg tossed the bundles of papers into the backseat with ease while Mark worked around his disability to get a couple in as quickly as he could.
“Go ahead and hop on in,” Greg said. Mark situated himself in the passenger's seat and buckled in. “You don't get car sick, do ya?”
“Good, hold this bundle on your lap, hang these bags from the visor and we'll roll as we go.” Greg made his way around the front of his car, opened the door and eased himself into the seat. Mark felt himself rise slightly once Greg settled in and gripped the steering wheel. His hands were so huge, they made the wheel look like a kids' toy. He hunkered down behind the wheel, started it up and they took off like a shot.
“We've got a couple places on the route that like their paper at a certain time, but most of it doesn't matter all that much. Couple of critical places, but you're mostly patrolling to keep all the little bastards away,” Greg said as they turned a corner a little too quickly for Mark's taste.
“Patrolling? What little bastards?” Mark asked.
“Kid, there's some things you need to know about people who do a paper route,” Greg said, turning to grin at Mark. Mark felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach that wasn't from Greg's driving. With the car in motion, there was no way for Mark to just open the door and get out. “It takes a special kind of person to do this sort of thing. Look, there's one now!”
Greg swerved towards the shoulder of the road, hitting something small that tried to scurry off into the brush. There was the slightest hitch and then Greg got back on the main road.
“What the hell?” Mark yelled. “Why are you aiming for cats?”
“That was no cat, kid.” Greg said, seriously. Mark stared at him and when he turned, he saw the hard glint in Greg's eyes. “That was a freakin' goblin.”
“A goblin? You mean like in those kid's fairy tales kind of goblin?”
“No, I mean the My Pretty Pony kind of goblin,” he said sarcastically. “Yes, the fairy tale kind. What other kind is there? Those things are ugly, nasty little buggers and we are supposed to kill every single one we come across.”
“Wait. What?” Mark frowned at Greg. “I thought this was supposed to just be a paper route.”
“Look, man,” Greg pulled off to the side of the road, the little Prius idling. “There is more to everything in this world than meets the eye. Every person on this planet has a job to do and about ninety-eight percent of it is magic related. The problem is that the majority of people on this planet have been brainwashed into believing magic doesn't exist. Which gives those goblins, and all the other creatures that roam this earth intent on destroying it, free reign. Lots of people do things in their work without even realizing the consequences. It is by pure chance that they kill any of the goblins, chase off the Nightmares and everything else that is hazardous to our existence. But once in awhile, we still come across someone else who can see them, even if they don't understand what they're looking at.”
Mark sat there and stared out of the windshield for a moment, watching the first rays of the sun peek over the hills. He didn't know if he wanted to believe the hulking figure huddled in the seat next to him.
“Just drive,” Mark muttered.
Greg put the car silently into gear and pulled back onto the road. They rode in silence for the next fifteen minutes. Greg only spoke when he had to point out a delivery. It seemed to Mark that just about every house they delivered a paper to had something going on. He watched closely, even though Greg said nothing more than, “This guy gets the paper daily, this one is just a weekender.”
At one home in particular, Mark watched as Greg threw the paper, somewhat haphazardly, but before the paper landed in the drive, it passed through something and it exploded into ash before falling to the ground.
“What was that?” Mark asked.
“Nothing, kid.” Greg said sourly.
“No, really. What was that?”
“That,” Greg said with a heavy sigh, “was the remnants of some kid's nightmare. I don't know the intricate details of it all, but there is something in the ink of the newspaper that destroys them. Someone told me when I first started, but it was something the previous person repeated to them. Lots got lost in the translation from driver to driver. I can find out, though, if you really are interested.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Mark said, not wanting to commit just yet. He had to admit, though, his eyes had been opened up to a whole new world and he didn't think he'd be able to see things the way he used to anymore.
“Problem is,” Greg continued, “is that print is dying. More and more people are reading the news online, reading books on those computer thingies. So who knows what'll happen to the kids who are being bothered by goblins and trolls. What will happen when they're nightmares don't go away?”
Greg drove the Prius up and down winding dirt roads, pointing out which homes got the paper for no reason other than being just a subscriber. The rest of them all had certain problems. Those issues ranged from pixies to trolls and every paper delivered helped to fix the problem somehow.
After a while, they pulled onto a dirt road that gave Mark the creeps. The trees at the edge were still bare even though it was the middle of summer and none of them seemed to be “beetle-kill” trees. Trees that were killed from the inside out by a certain type of beetle infestation. Those trees you could spot a mile away, but these trees... Something else had affected these trees.
Greg slowed the car as they pulled up to a particular tree. It looked like it had been scorched from the inside, the pulp of the tree completely destroyed, leaving only the shell of the bark behind. It was bent over, as if the weight of the branches had pulled it down as its insides were ripped away.
“This is the portal,” Greg said, glaring at the tree. “Those damn little bastards, they killed that Dryad so they would have a way to get here. There are portals all over the world. We try to destroy as many as we can, but they always manage to have five more hidden somewhere else.”
Mark looked at the tree again, noticing how the branches seemed to be arms. They were drooping in such a way that it looked as if the Dryad had tried to shield off an attack, but to no avail.
“We work at it a little bit at a time,” Greg said. “But it isn't enough. We don't have that many people delivering papers. And like I said, fewer people subscribe each year. I'd hate to see what happens when the newspapers stop being delivered.”
Mark opened the car door and got out. He moved carefully over to the tree, a newspaper tucked under his arm.
“What're you doing, kid?” Greg called from the car.
“Just trying something,” Mark called back. He took the paper from under his arm and dropped it into the middle of the dead tree. There was a slight explosion, strong enough to send Mark backwards several feet and knock him on his backside. Behind him, Greg chuckled.
“I could have told you what would happen,” Greg said, still chortling. Mark shot him a dirty look as he got up and dusted himself off. He came back to the car and grabbed several more papers and, from the safety of the car, he threw them all towards the center of the blackened trunk. Each paper that landed shook the tree with a stronger explosion until finally, the tree burst into flames. Mark pushed the button that raised the window.
“Might want to drive now,” he told Greg. The large man nodded and stepped on the gas. They didn't take off very fast, but they did manage to get some distance between the tree and themselves before the final explosion. For a moment, the flames blew outward, then suddenly they seemed to be sucked in. A bright halo of light burst from the center of the tree and expanded rapidly, cutting down the trees in the surrounding area. The concussion from the blast blew out the back window of the Prius and Greg shouted a couple of choice curses. Greg hit the brakes and they skidded to a stop.
“Damn it,” Greg sighed. “This is my wife's new car. She's going to kill me.”
They both turned around in their seats to look behind them and saw the wreckage, the smoldering stumps of trees.
“I think we should get out of here,” Mark suggested.
“Good idea,” Greg said. He turned the car around and they headed back out to the main road. “Don't know why I didn't think of that. But now I'm going to be short papers and they dock that from your pay.”
“I'll pay you back,” Mark said.
“Do I look like I need your money?” Greg asked.
“No, I just – ”
“Don't worry kid,” Greg grinned at him. “So. Do you want the route?”