“Well, are you ready to thank God for the damn spotted blinds and all the ducks on the pond?” someone asked as he squinted himself awake.
The bright light hurt. He felt horrible. And he wasn’t dead. Right now, he wasn’t sure how he felt about that. He was in the hospital.
Ryan stared at the stranger at his bedside. There wasn’t much to look at really. Bright red beanie, ratty grey turtleneck, long black feathered bangs with a silver stripe, covering most of his eyes.
“Who are you?”
The boy closed his book, “You call me Kedo.”
“No way.” Kedo was just someone on the internet. He didn’t even post anything. Didn’t even have a real profile picture, just a black and white picture of some rabbits. “That’s not your real name, is it? I mean, you don’t even look Asian.”
“Course not, man. And no, well, maybe if you go back far enough, I could be slightly Asian. Don’t know, don’t really care.”
“Kedo’s still not the best name.”
“But it works.”
“Wait,-why? How are you even here?”
“Saved your life,” he replied scrolling through his phone, “Figured I’d stick around a while.”
But how did you even know? He shook his head trying to clear it. Stupid, his head hadn’t been clear for over a month now. But he remembered something.
“You’re lucky I broke in.” Two voices, one almost a threat. Something forced down his throat.
Kedo kept scrolling through his phone. “I knew something was wrong when you first messaged me. The only people who message me are lonely or scammers. And if this is a scam, go ahead and take my hundred bucks, cuz you’ve committed and you’ve earned it.”
“It’s not,” He paused. “Are you some kind of guardian angel or something?”
“Guardian? Yeah, you could say that. Angel?” He raised his eyebrows, “Nah, too much work, don’t have time. I’m selfish, man, I didn’t want you to die. Besides, you puked all over me so I reckon we’re even.” He pulled out a bag of red candy, “Want a Cherry Sour? They’re one thing worth living for. That, and flavored popcorn.”
“It only takes one, doesn’t it?”
The candy was ok, but Kedo’s serious reply disturbed him.
“It’s alright,” he admitted, “Have you- thought about this?”
“Everybody does at some time or other.” The voice was casual, flippant even.
“Why? I mean, why did you-?”
“Just get tired,” he sighed, “In my hometown, you try something like this, they make you want to finish the job.
Ryan clenched his teeth. Yeah, he was going to have a lot of explaining to do and he didn’t even know what to say.
“Don’t think I should be telling you that. It wouldn’t have been poison, that’s for sure,” "Kedo" replied.
"Kedo" didn’t look like herself and she had never used this disguise before, she could afford to be honest. But she didn’t want him getting any more ideas either. Couldn’t have him trying again. She wasn’t a babysitter. Not like Par. She was never good at fixing things. Probably jumping. Get a few seconds of flying. But it wouldn’t be fair to whoever had to pick me up. Besides, don’t want people thinking I got clumsy.
Besides, that would be losing. And Leidia Elhara did not lose.
Oh, she didn’t expect to live too long. The dragon moss only kept her young, not immortal. Peter Pan, Pigeon sometimes called her after she explained it. He read it to her afterward. She liked it.
No, with her life, she’d likely be shot eventually. That’s why she kept the armor on.
No, she wasn’t going to die of old age. She didn’t see herself growing up. It would get in the way of her work. But she wasn’t going down easy either.
“You gotta push out the silence in your head,” she tells the kid in the hospital bed. She’s not Yuna, she doesn’t have any sweet stories to distract. Doesn’t have the soft warm eyes of the pretty boy. She doesn’t have the smile of Hersey or any of the nice police officers. Not Zipper. He’s a proud fool that can’t even lie well. And she’s not going to stick with him like Pigeon does for her. It was only supposed to be a temporary thing. Recruitment worked better in person. All she could give him was the truth.
“Doesn’t matter. There’s this one kid-goes to the loudest, craziest bar or restaurant in town and just paints and listens.” That and his stupid mangy cat. It wasn’t Nadaldi to run from your thoughts. You were supposed to go into the woods and just be still and brave and get over it. Yeah, right. All those pretty lies. You sulked or you went to war.
Ryan looked for something to say, “Your hair looks fake.”
“Course it is. I’m in disguise. I’m just an internet stranger. I like my privacy, man.” Hell, she wasn’t even supposed to meet him yet.
She had barely had enough time to figure out a good disguise. The original plan was meeting him alone, she hadn’t planned on doctors and family. Thank the Creator King for Goodwill. It wasn’t her best, she was still trying to figure out if Kedo cussed. At least, she had a basic voice for him down that didn’t match any of her other names: slow and dry, 18-19 years old. Tatlo was closest but Tatlo was 17 and he cussed and was always on the offensive. Kedo was lazy and barely interested.
She didn’t even have to be here. She could have left after watching the ambulance whiz off under her hiding place in the front yard tree. She wasn’t going to use him anyway. But she had saved him. So like it or not, she was his succorkin, and she was going to see this through.
She was curious, too. Would he be grateful or curse at her for stopping him?
There was no thanking, no cursing, no crying. Just her, him, awkward silence, and the fake wind from the air conditioner.
Kedo looked up, “I’m going to get a snack from the vending machine. Want anything?”
“You’re just going to leave me here alone?”
“You’re a big boy. You can afford to live for five more minutes. ‘Sides you got company.”
Kedo left his book and his bag behind.
There was a lot of sharp, cold talk. A few fisted hugs. How could he do this?
Ryan couldn’t look at them, kept staring at the tattered bag Kedo had left behind. Just a cheap plastic drawstring bag that you might get from a county fair. Staring at the worn design. What was it? Two triangular shapes? Mountains? And a lake? No, there was an eye. A fox. A fox.
Ryan didn’t notice the nurse leaving or Kedo slipping back into the empty room until the man interrupted their grumbling.
“They’ve got a right to be mad,” Kedo said.
“It’s my life!” he exploded.
“You thought of it!”
“Yeah, but I didn’t.”
They don’t talk for a while. Kedo has quite a glare though he drops it for looking back at whatever game he’s playing on his phone.
Kedo’s phone rings. He seems annoyed. Something about Cat, and her little princeling. And yeah, yeah, he’ll get to it. He always gets the job done. He’s on personal business. Personal business stays personal business.
“Just work,” he says at the end of it.
“What do you do?”
“Messenger.” He looks tired now, “Nothing too big. It’s a pretty low-level position.”
It’s not legal. That Ryan’s sure of, it makes sense: the fake hair, the no posts, that silly rabbit profile picture, the way he’s never in the room with the nurse.
Kedo shrugs, “I’m not dead yet. Pays well.”
“How’d you find me?” he asks.
“Got connections,” he pauses, makes sure Ryan’s paying attention, “I can’t always answer. Doesn’t mean anything if I don’t pick up. If you call me, you don’t talk until you hear my voice.”
“I’m giving you my phone number. Make a bet with you. Ten years, we both stay alive, I’ll explain everything. Name, face, whatever.”
“It’s a big prize. Gotta make sure you earn it. You can even take me to the cops if you want.”
“And then after?”
“Whatever. If you can’t keep on after that, it’s your choice.”
“Why’d you even come?”
“Liked talking. And the pictures.”
“Yeah, like I said, got to keep the silence out.”
“Fine. Ten years.”
Kedo leaves the book and they both set timers on their phones.
His mother holds his hand in the parking lot. A little girl sees him, smirks, and gives a strange three-fingered wave.
He’d think it was a dream except he still has the book, Manalive by G.K. Chesterton, and he finally gets the spotted blinds reference. Kedo left a note in that scene, remaining him of the date ten years away, no signature, just a doodle of a rabbit.
Dragonslayer357: That G.K. Chesterton’s weird.
Kedo: Oh? Why?
Months later, and Ryan still doesn’t know much about Kedo, other than he likes Tetris. He’s good at it, too. Ryan hasn’t been able to touch his high score.
Leidia smiles at her phone. Ryan’s photoshopped some movie poster to show that red beanie and that skunk stripe hair. “Kedo’s Delivery Service” it says.
The timer keeps ticking.
Some days are really bad. But Kedo always gets back to him eventually.
The timer is still ticking.
Ryan doesn’t go on the app so much anymore. He’s busy. College applications, his friends, job.
Bryce stares at the mess of the kitchen table. He didn’t know when Officer Rodger dropped him off with Mr. Amos, he would be stepping into the aftermath. It’s like what would happen if you lived with the butler after Batman died. That’s the best he could explain it, though he can’t tell anyone.
But whatever Leidia Elhara/Cat/Tatlo/whoever she was really was like, she didn’t have any cool technology. Except maybe the tranquilizer darts. She didn’t believe in that stuff. There were no massive hard drives. Some USBs hidden in various places. Papers. Lots of phones.
And apparently most of that stuff was memorized. Numbers. People. Caches. Contacts. It worked great. Still impressive.
But now she was gone.
Everyone always said she would get killed, nobody really believed it would happen.
She left a big shadow, no matter how small she seemed in the few photos.
He hasn’t even met her, and he kind of hates her. He gets from Officer Rodger that’s normal.
Now, Ethan and Mr. Amos are trying to sort out what she left behind.
An alarm goes off from one of the phones. They both look at it, brows drawing in.
“What is it?” Ethan asks.
“I don’t know,” Mr. Amos says, “she didn’t tell me everything.”
“Ten years, though?” Ethan says, “It must have been important.”
Bryce can’t stand being ignored much longer. He looks at the note on the timer, “Ked-o?”
“Key-doe, Key-doe” they correct him.
“It was one of her words.”
“Actually,” Ethan says, “it’s from my mother. Her father told her about this Filipino doctor. He was trying to say “Okey-dokey” but he got mixed up. We adopted it.”
“She always did like fun words,” Mr. Amos scratches his head, “I did see a poster, once. Kedo’s delivery service. Somebody made it for her. She smiled about it. But it was never a mission name.”
“Hmm,” Ethan sighs, “Wonder who’s waiting for her.”
He meets Mr. Amos/Pigeon’s eyes. And do we tell them?
Ryan comes home to find his old phone had buzzed off the nightstand. 00:00:00 it says. Oh, right, it was that day. So many days he had thought he would never make it and now he had almost forgotten. He finds the book packed away, the note still in place.
He stops by the convenience store to get a snack. He saw a package of Cherry Sours. Right after that incident, they were a relief. Now, he doesn’t want to look at them anymore, doesn’t want to think back to a time when the air was too heavy and he couldn’t breathe and he just couldn’t take any more.
“It only takes one, doesn’t it?”
He remembers that sad tired voice and buys them anyway.
He plops down on the park bench and logs into his old account.
Dragonslayer357: @Kedo Hey, man, I made it. You coming?