Dogsbody snapped awake, breathing heavily, a scream trapped in his throat. He blinked madly, trying to focus his eyes and struggling to remember just what it was that had frightened him so badly.
Two things: a faint smell of licorice, and the soft murmur of Mr Walker’s voice. That was all Dogsbody could recall.
He shivered under his cover of discarded newspapers and rotting sandwich buns, and his hand crept to his coat pocket to make sure that the letters entrusted to him by Mr Walker still rested, safe and dry, in his possession. The plastic wrapping the bundle crinkled, and Dogsbody felt a modicum of relief. But what if someone had taken the letters and left the plastic? He threw his coverlet of garbage to the side and struggled a moment with his coat, trying to pull the packet from his pocket. A quick count revealed that the letters were all still there.
Dogsbody leaned back into the only comfort he could remember, his pulse finally slowing to normal. That dream, though; that dream. He clenched his jaw, fighting against the blankness in his memory. Fighting to no avail.
The clock at the Methodist church chimed six. Dogsbody knew that it was nearly time for him to be on his way to complete his assignment. For far from the first time and far from the last, he wished that he had never woken up.
But he was awake, and he had a job to do. The reward would be well worthwhile. Mr Walker had promised that much. Dogsbody rose and patted his pockets down once more to make sure he had the valuable letters and abandoned his sewage-scented nest.
The nearest post office lay fourteen blocks north of Dogsbody’s home; he chose to head there first. Sixteen letters, twelve post offices. He trudged down the echoing streets, nearly empty this early in the morning, but they would be filled soon enough with the hustle and bustle of the city that left Dogsbody to his own devices.
He spent a few moments musing how he had come to this, hating the city and its inhabitants, but not hating any of the specific people who were surely more to blame than any innocent resident who’d never even heard of Dogsbody.
The fourth post office had a line out the door. Dogsbody dropped the letter in the out-of-town box as Mr Walker instructed and moved on. Around eighteen more miles to go, but the next three stops were very close to each other, and in between them were places Dogsbody knew he could find a bite to eat.
Ten stops in. Nearly there. and the dream slapped Dogsbody in the face out of nowhere. As quickly, it was gone, leaving him gasping for breath just as he did a few hours earlier. Licorice. And Mr Walker. Dogsbody shook his head, trying to loosen the memories lodged somewhere in his cerebral cortex. He wondered how many other people could shake so easily while still covering their faces with their coat collar. Not many, he supposed.
But it isn’t a necessary skill for many. Not for many at all.
The final mailbox at the final post office; the final two letters. Dogsbody double checked and dropped them in. He pulled his collar a little higher and readied himself for the long walk back home, where he would wait for Mr Walker to contact him. As he neared his alley, the first flakes of snow began to fall.