Don’t Shoot The Messenger: The Revised Letters
My college has a terrible internship program. I figured that, as long as I had to do an internship, I would at least choose one that paid well. The fact that it pays well is about the only good part of it. I was excited when I found out my application had been approved, but when I arrived, I found out that I would be working as an aide for a man who only gave his name as “Justice.” Part of why he needs an aide is because he needs someone to take care of all the paperwork. Mr. Justice is blind, you see. Get it? Ha. Ha ha.
I wondered at first why Mr. Justice needed an English major for his aide. A business major seemed a much better fit. Then he handed me a flash drive filled with documents left behind by a certain Mr. Messenger and told me that he wanted it edited into something more presentable. Who is Mr. Messenger, I asked Mr. Justice. A dead man, Mr. Justice said. Oh, and it goes without saying, Mr. Justice said, that everything related to this job is highly confidential. Being careless with things like names and places would not be wise. And then he made vague comments that sounded suspiciously like threats.
So I suppose I’ll be “Turtle” now since that’s what I am. A turtle upturned, hiding away inside my little shell, hoping that I can flip myself back upright and protect myself long enough to ride this out.
Now let’s find out who “The Messenger” is.
Well. How the hell am I supposed to begin this story?
I don’t even know why I’m writing this, to be honest. I guess I’m mostly writing it for my own sake, but I feel like I want someone, anyone to read it. I just don’t know how anyone would get their hands on it or why they would even believe this bullshit. If you fall into one or both categories, I should probably thank you. So…thanks, I guess.
These words are some weird combo of a diary, memoir, and will, I suppose. See, I’ve recently started a rather stressful job. Tedious work, bad pay, emotionally and psychologically draining…not exactly what I was looking at using my degree for. I’ve got my reasons for working here, but it’s probably going to be a bit before I’m ready to put them down on paper. For now, though, let’s just say I’m the new IT guy for a cult serving some Cthulhu type motherfucker.
Yeah, apparently cults have IT guys now. Underground psycho religions for the 21st century, everybody.
I’m the Messenger, by the way. Hi. It’s not my real name, obviously, but it’s the name I’m supposed to be using. Anyway, the reason I’m writing this in the first place is because my roommate died earlier this week. He went off on an assignment and just…didn’t come back. I didn’t even know until I got the paperwork. Designation: Hyde. Identification number: NYTE-138H. Given name: Henry Davidson. I only learned the poor kid’s real name after he had died.
I called my boss—a teenage girl, by the way—about what had happened, and she gave me a vague comment about how he had been killed in action. I asked what we were going to do. If there would be some sort of funeral, or at least a memorial service. She had scoffed at that. “We don’t do that here,” she said.
I was shocked. This guy who died—he was just a kid. He had been a college student a bit earlier, but I don’t know if he was even old enough to drink. And from what I gathered, he wasn’t in contact with his family. Maybe he was estranged. Maybe they thought he was dead. Maybe they’re all dead themselves. The details don’t matter. All that matters is that these cultists were the only people who really even knew of his existence, and they didn’t even care. A boy died. No one mourned him.
He must have hated himself. Henry, I mean. He called himself “Hyde,” of all things. You don’t name yourself after an archetypal evil personality if you’re proud of what you do. Maybe he thought there was still good in him, or that this person he was wasn’t really him. Maybe he was “hyding” from what he had become (sorry, that wasn’t funny or appropriate). Then again, maybe he just thought “Hyde” sounded cool. Pretentious bullshit names almost seem like a job requirement here.
The point is, Henry obviously had some sort of story. Now he’s dead, and that story is gone. I barely knew Hyde, and I didn’t know Henry at all. He had to have been someone before he dropped out of school and joined a cult. He had a life before he cut ties and changed his name. But no one will ever know now. I don’t want the same thing to happen to me. I don’t want the old me to be lost. I don’t want to just be The Messenger. I don’t want to just be NYTE-141X.
So that’s why I’m writing this. Because I don’t know what my shelf time is anymore. This is something to leave behind for whoever comes after, because I want someone to remember me.
I’m sorry, I’m just waxing philosophical about my own mortality now. I should maybe explain what exactly I do. Like I mentioned earlier, I’m the IT guy. The cult seems to own this apartment building, and I’m in charge of keeping its network running smoothly. I’m also here to take care of people’s computer issues. I have to admit, I’m not exactly stoked to go through their browser histories to find out what sort of shady sites they’re getting viruses from.
I’m sorry; I realize how stupid this sounds. My thoughts are still everywhere and I’m just vomiting them onto the page hoping that it will somehow help me adjust. Maybe soon I’ll be able to pretend this is all normal. For now, though, I’ve run out of things to say, so I guess I’ll just sign off. Until later,
In all my waxing philosophical in that last entry, I kind of neglected to mention what exactly I do. I mentioned that I’m the IT guy for a cult, but I suppose it’s not really that simple. I’ve been inducted into what we call “electi filii” (which is Latin because of course it is) which, as far as I can tell, is a bureaucratic organization at the head of what we shall for simplicity’s sake dub “Bedlam Enterprises.” We’re not just a cult; we’re an organization. I wonder how many of Bedlam’s employees are aware of the cult. I’m sure that at least some realize they’re working for “legitimate businessmen,” though maybe some think we’re affiliated with the mafia. God, I wish I had accidentally gotten involved with the mafia. They may be ruthless criminals, but at least they’re not insane ones.
Most of my job actually deals with Bedlam employees. In addition to the IT work, I’ve been tasked with converting a lot of paperwork into a digital database. I keep track of a lot of information on employees. Employees that, I’m discovering, often have higher salaries than I do.
It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that there’s a chain of command here. They’re not telling me just how far up it goes, but I know there are at least three layers to it. I’m on the bottom, obviously. Above me is my boss, although I think she’s technically called my “handler.” Handlers seem to be in charge of different divisions of the cult (it’s bigger than I had initially thought), so she’s obviously getting orders from somewhere higher up. My understanding of anything past that is pretty hazy. Except for the top layer. I’m pretty sure I know who “The Boss” really is.
My handler calls herself Tempest. I think that’s what the TE part in our identification numbers stands for. Like I mentioned earlier, she’s a teenage girl. I tried using this database that’s part of my job in order to find out some more info on her, but it turns out that information on the filii is heavily restricted. My access is pretty much just the dead people, and even then the information I have is pretty limited. I get a name, an alias, a number, and when they died. I don’t even get the details of the death. I can’t even access my own information.
I didn’t even have that level of clearance until just the other day. Every day, everyone in the apartment complex gets their orders, delivered in crisp and neat little manila envelopes. They’re all emblazoned with the same symbol: an inverted white triangle with a vertical white stripe down the center. Mine’s labeled “NYTE-141X The Messenger,” but apart from that it looks just like everyone else’s. No return addresses or anything. Why would we possibly need to know where or who they came from?
Anyway, that’s how I first found out that Hyde was dead. Along with the usual Bedlam information, I received a sheet with a sticky note attached.
Your clearance has been
upgraded. You are
expected to enter this
information as well.
On the sheet was Hyde’s information. Surprise, Messenger! Your roommate’s dead! Now put it into the computer because for some reason we can’t be assed to.
So that’s part of my job too, now. I’m a messenger of death. Fear my keystrokes.
Our orders are usually dropped off in our mailboxes, but Tempest swung by the apartment the other day to hand it to me herself.
“You usually don’t deliver these in person,” I said.
“I usually won’t. I’m largely here to check up on you. See how you’re adjusting after your roommate’s death.”
“Oh. I guess I’m honored you’re taking the time to do so.”
She sat down on my couch. “Don’t be. This is a business call. We get a lot of people who run.”
I gave her a glance. She didn’t look like she was on a business call. She looked like a regular sixteen-year-old girl dressed in a red hoodie, jeans, and tennis shoes. “Sorry, you just…don’t seem dressed for business.” To her credit, she had brought a briefcase instead of a backpack.
“We don’t have a dress code. Wear whatever you want, as long as you’re getting your job done.”
I shrugged. If she’s not fond of dressing up, I’m not going to complain, especially if it gives me permission to wear sweatpants. “Well, either way, I’m not running. You’re aware of my situation, I believe.”
“I am, but we still have to be thorough. A moment of panic can cause people to make rash decisions. I’m sure you understand. After all, we have reason to believe your roommate was performing suicide by cop.”
“I…had not heard that,” I said. “That’s terrible.”
“Agreed. It’s a shame we lost him.” I hadn’t meant it was terrible for us, but I wasn’t about to correct her. She opened up her briefcase and pulled out several sheets of paper and a pencil. “Are you adjusting well enough?” she asked, flipping open a notepad.
“I guess. It’s not really an easy transition. I started up a journal the other day. That helped some.”
“Good. I recommend continuing. Many here find it therapeutic.” It’s unnerving hearing that stiff, adult vocabulary coming from someone as young as her.
“Any other advice?” I asked.
“Yes. Do what you’re told. Don’t rock the boat. Play along like you think He’s real, even if you think that’s stupid.”
“So you, uh, don’t think I believe it?”
“I know your type,” she said. “We all know your type. This isn’t a threat, Messenger. It’s an earnest warning. If you give these people any reason to find you disloyal or disposable, they’ll jump on it. I recommend that you stop thinking in terms of ‘you’ and ‘us,’ because believe me, Messenger: you do not want ‘us’ as your enemy.”
I looked away, unsure of how to answer. When Tempest saw she wasn’t getting a response, she pulled out a few pieces of paper.
“Part of the reason I came here was to administer this test. I need to gauge your mental state. It’s a fairly regular thing we do here.”
“I could just fill it out on my own, you know.”
“I know. That’s what you’ll usually be doing, but I need accurate results this first time. This way I can tell whether or not you’re lying.” The look on my face must have showed, because she continued. “Tone of voice, how quickly you answer things, facial tells…it’s not as hard as it sounds.” She crossed her arms, and it might have been my imagination, but she almost looked insulted.
She asked me a few questions about my background, then read off a bunch of statements I had to answer on a scale from one to five, based on how much I agreed with each one. A lot of questions about how I feel about myself, how I feel about others, and how emotional I am, along with some about recent changes in energy, appetite, sleeping habits, and other lifestyle elements. When she finished the test, she looked it over and gave a satisfied nod without bothering to tell me how I actually tested. Then she stood, thanked me for my time, and excused herself.
Not sure how I should feel about all the whole encounter. Threatened? Worried? I don’t know. Between Tempest’s comments and the fact that we have regular mental health checkups, it’s obvious that I’m sitting on a powder keg of insanity. Still, I should be fine as long as I don’t try lighting the metaphorical fuse.
“Don’t rock the boat,” she says. Ha. Like I’d even wanted to set sail in the first place.
I had a few “co-workers” swing by today. Heard a knock on my door, followed by “Hey, new guy! Open up! I wanna borrow a cup of sugar!”
I looked through the peephole to get a look at my two visitors. They seemed unusual enough on their own, but even more so as a pair. The guy who had knocked was dressed in a light jacket over a T-shirt reading “I’m with stupid” with the arrow pointing upwards. He had a fairly stocky frame and sort of shaggy reddish-brown hair. I guess I’d describe him as 30-something man who looked like he was trying to pass as a college student. It would have been hard for his companion to look much more different. She was slight and short, dressed in one of those black dresses with the white lace, sleeves down to her wrists. She had blonde hair tied with black ribbon on either side of her head. She was looking down at the floor, and almost seemed almost like some sort of porcelain doll brought to life.
I opened up the door to talk to them, and the guy seemed to be under the impression that I had actually invited him in since he stepped right past me into my apartment, casually shoving a box of Hot Pockets into my hands.
“Here, housewarming gift. Hey, nice pad you’ve got here. Isn’t it great, Poe?”
“It’s nice,” she said flatly, tagging along behind him.
It’s not nice, by the way. The apartment is certainly sizeable enough, especially since I’m alone in a two-bedroom one, but that’s like having a dual-core processor on a machine running Windows ’98. All the appliances look like they’re from the late 90’s, the lighting in most rooms is insufficient (the hallway doesn’t even have a light), there aren’t nearly enough outlets for what I need, and there’s a spot on the bathroom wall where the paint has chipped off to reveal the ugly pea green color beneath. “Seedy” would be a good word to describe it. “Shithole” might also suffice. “Nice” would not.
My impromptu guest clapped his hand across my shoulders. “Name’s Caper, by the way. She’s Poe. You’d be the Messenger, right?” He made his way to the couch and dropped down on it, unabashedly making himself at home. Poe sat off to the side on one of my kitchen stools.
“Uh…yeah. Yeah, that’s me. Sorry, who are you exactly?”
“Caper and Poe. Not our real names, obviously. We’re your co-workers. We live down a flight.”
“Yeah, no, I meant to ask what you’re doing here.”
“Visiting you, obviously. Never had an IT guy, have we, Poe?”
“It’s certainly a new experience,” she said.
“So yeah, we figured we’d check up on the new guy. We haven’t gotten the chance to meet you, so we thought we’d swing by to see how you were doing.”
“I’m all right, I guess. Tempest came by earlier in the week.”
“Ooh, she give you that crazy person test?”
“Well I’m not sure that’s the PC term for it, but yeah. I think I checked out.”
“Eh, that’ll change. After a point, it’s more about gauging sudden changes than keeping us sane. We all go a little mad sometimes.” He grinned. “That’s from Scream, you know.”
“It’s from Psycho, Caper,” Poe corrected.
Caper shrugged. “It can be from both.” He turned back to me. “Anyway, what exactly is it that you do?”
“Well, I, uh…do IT stuff, obviously. And some database entry. Keeping track of info on our people and the…runners, I think you guys call them?”
“Yep, that’s the word. You know, I could probably help you out with some of that.”
“Yeah, definitely. I mean, I’m not great with computers or anything, but get me names of the guys you’re having trouble with and I can probably get them added to the ‘deceased’ pile. They get a lot easier to manage at that point.”
There was a long awkward pause as I stared at him. He stared back at me. Then he started laughing.
“Chill, man. Come on, learn to take a joke. You’ll never make it here if you can’t deal with a little dark humor.” The two of us chuckled for a few seconds before he grew deathly serious again. “But no, seriously, we do kill people sometimes.”
I wasn’t sure how seriously to take him. “You…do?”
“Well, Poe and I don’t do a whole lot of that. We’re trackers. It’s our job to find people. But we’ve had to get our hands dirty in the past when doing field work. There’s some self-defense involved, but it is kind of an underground war. We’re expected to aggress if necessary. Ended up having to kill a guy a few weeks ago, actually.”
I suddenly felt less comfortable with him in the room. “Really? Uh, how?”
Caper shrugged. “Jammed my cock down his throat until he choked to death on it. I like to be a little creative whenever possible. Livens up the job some.”
I slowly became aware that my mouth was hanging open.
“What? It’s not gay if they don’t live through it. …I mean, you know, not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.”
Another pause. It was Poe who finally broke the silence. “I sincerely apologize for him,” she said, completely deadpan.
He grinned, and the two of us slowly broke out laughing as it dawned on me that this was just another joke. It was a fucked up joke. I’ll admit that much. But somehow, it still managed to make me laugh.
Caper smiled, then. Not the sly smirk he’d been wearing before, but an earnest warm one. “See? It’s not so hard to laugh. Best way to survive here.”
“Really? Not sure our bosses would agree with that.”
Caper scoffed. “And they don’t know shit about what it is to be a grunt here. Laughter’s how you keep your sanity. I’ll level with you, Messenger: death’s not easy. The first time you watch a man jump off the building, you don’t want to think about it but the pause before the splat reminds you of how high up when he jumped—and the splat reminds you of what state he ended up in when he hit the ground. For weeks, you dream about someone jumping off a building, and most of the time the jumper is you.”
“So you laugh so you don’t cry?”
Caper sighed and shook his head. “Nah. That part gets easier. By the fifth time you’re willing to shove him just to get it over with sooner. By the tenth, you’ve stopped thinking of him as a person, so you tie him to a bungee cord that’s just a liiiittle too long. ‘WheeeeeeeeeeSPLAT. WheeeeeeeeeeSPLAT.’” He chuckled. “And it shocks you. It’s so ridiculously cruel and unfair that it shocks you into remembering that you’ve just killed a man. And it hurts to remember, but the pain means that you’re human again.”
He stopped there. I didn’t know how to respond, so I just let the silence drag on.
“Well,” he said after a bit, “we should probably get back to work. Just thought we’d say hi.” I showed him to the door, and as he passed through he snapped his fingers and spun on his heels to face me. “Say, Messy….”
“It’s, uh…it’s The Messenger.”
“Right, gotcha. Anyway, we’re going to be heading out to a bar this Friday. You wanna come?”
“I’m not really much of a drinker.”
He laughed. “Oh, come on, Messy. Don’t be such a bitch. Trust me, get out a bit. It’ll do you good.”
I accepted the offer in the end. I guess hanging out with Caper and Poe again isn’t the end of the world.
Our money comes in on Fridays every other week. It’s not actually a lot, and in hindsight I probably could have used that as an excuse to not go drinking. I don’t have to pay for the room or utilities or anything, but I need to buy my own food and cover any other materials I might need. Guess this means I’m going to be saving for a while if I plan on updating my rig anytime soon.
Anyway, after we were all sufficiently funded, Caper showed up at my door at around 7 PM with Poe and a man I didn’t recognize. “Messy, this is Helios. Helios, Messy.”
“The Messenger,” I said, correcting Caper.
We shook hands. “Nice to meet you,” he said, grasping my hand in a firm shake. I immediately felt underdressed and inadequate in his presence. Helios wore a white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, a sports jacket slung over a shoulder and a flat cap over slicked-back hair. His grip was strong but his skin was soft, and there was a faint scent of cologne and hair gel on him. It was how he held himself that really stood out, though. A man who exudes that level of confidence could easily make it as a model. He grinned as he shook, flashing me some of the whitest teeth I’d ever seen.
“You ready to go?” Caper asked. I was feeling a bit less confident about the nice overshirt I’d put on, but since Poe looked like she had dressed for some sort of gothic tea party and Caper looked like he had dressed for…well, he didn’t look he had dressed for anything, so I figured I was fine. I shrugged and followed them out the door.
The bar we went to was actually only a few blocks away, so we just walked. The place was called “The Chaser.” I’m not entirely sure I like the implications of that name, but I’m also not sure I’m ever going back anyway, so I guess it doesn’t matter.
The bartender—some woman named Rachael—nodded at them as they entered. The three must have been regulars, because she referred to them by name. I was assuming she would have used normal names, but oddly enough, she referred to them as Caper, Poe, and Helios. I let them introduce me as The Messenger, but wondered what sort of establishment doesn’t bother carding people using obviously fake names.
Caper kicked the night off by ordering me some powerful drinks with ridiculous names. I refused him when he tried to order me something called a “Buggered Donkey” and stuck mostly to rum and Coke after that. I ordered an overpriced greasy burger to get something in my stomach and sat at a booth to observe my co-workers.
Caper really seemed to be in his element. He started up a conversation with some other people in the bar, bought them a few drinks, and it wasn’t long before they had put Miley Cyrus on the jukebox and were singing along (terribly) at the top of their lungs. Poe stood close to the group, but separate and uninvolved, leaning against the wall. She hadn’t had more than one or two drinks, and she didn’t seem to be having much fun.
I turned to Helios, who had stayed with me in the booth. “What’s up with that girl?” I asked him as Caper and his new friends loudly informed the patrons that all they wanted was to break our walls.
“Poe?” He plucked a fry from my basket and washed it down with a swig of beer. “Who knows, really? She doesn’t talk about herself much.”
“Yeah, but is she always following Caper around like that?”
“All the time. Haven’t seen them apart since they became partners.”
“So are they, y’know, together or something?”
“Hmm. Now that you mention it, I don’t actually know. I’ve always assumed they were just partners because they don’t act much like a couple, but really, who can tell with a bunch of people like us?”
“…Yeah. Like us.”
“Right, I forgot, you’re still new to all this,” he laughed. “Don’t worry, you’ll fit in eventually.” I wasn’t sure whether or not it was supposed to be a joke. If it was meant to be comforting, it didn’t work.
“You seem normal enough, though.”
He smiled. “Thank you.”
“So what do you do?”
He shook his head. “I’ll tell you later.”
“Why not now?”
“You’re still new,”
He swiped another fry. “Why so interested, anyway? You know, about them? About me?”
“I’m…not really sure,” I said. “My, uh, roommate died, I guess.”
“Oh, yeah. Hyde, right? What’s that have to do with this?”
“He was…I just didn’t know anything about him. I didn’t know who he was or why he was here. I guess I’m just…curious.”
He thought for a moment. “You’re a strange guy, Messy.”
“We usually keep to ourselves here. Though really, it might be nice to have someone cataloguing more than just our deaths. Give us little biographies, maybe. A way for history to remember us.” Good point, Helios. History remembers Charles Manson quite fondly, after all.
“Maybe, I guess. You think others would want that? It gives me something to do with my spare time, if nothing else.”
Before he could answer, Poe came over to the table. “We should go,” she said. “Caper’s had too many. He needs to be taken home before he makes a fool of himself.”
Helios peered around her. Caper and a heavyset blonde man were taking turns using a beer bottle as a microphone, singing “Let it Be” in atrocious British accents. “I think it’s a bit late for that,” he said.
“Hey, Poe,” I asked, “do you think you or Caper would be interested in an interview at some point?”
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to ask,” she said.
“So he wouldn’t accept?”
“No, he would definitely accept.”
“Then why not? Just ask him for me, would you?”
She closed her eyes and exhaled in perhaps the most uptight, collective sigh I’ve ever seen. “If you insist, but please remember that I warned you.”
So I’ve used up some of my money on a digital voice recorder so that I can transcribe these interviews more accurately. Hopefully I’ll still be fine on food. If not, well, I’ve been through college. I can eat ramen.