Messenger In a Bottle
The islanders had a simple messaging system: they just put a messenger in a bottle and threw it in the water. The twist was that it was the message that mattered most, and the recipient could be anyone.
Crazy, I know.
But Polynesia worked just fine like that for centuries.
Sure, it required a tiny bit of magic. And some wandering about on the messenger’s part, turning back a few times, retracing their currents. But, in the end, they always found their correct recipient. The postal service was proud of that.
Oceania received her message. It simply said: Hug her.
As messages went, it wasn’t the weirdest, vaguest nor the shortest. She still could remember message #453.112 that simply said, “Okay.” By Maui, that one nearly killed her. She took forever to find the recipient, and it was just a confirmation on a candy order.
“What?” she protested in her squeaky little voice towards the wizard. “This can’t be it.”
“It is. Come along now, Oceania.” The wizard pinched her from the shirt with two of his fingers and put her in the bottle.
“I have delivered 999.999 messages. This will be my sweet million, why are you making this so hard for me?” her voice echoed inside the bottle.
The wizard shrugged. “It is what it is,” he said and pressed the cork tight with his thumb.
“You angry old git!” Oceania complained animatedly but even she knew that she could barely be heard by now, especially by a deaf wizard.
The wizard grunted and cracked his back. Oceania winced, it looked painful. The years hadn’t been kind on him, it was apparent.
Oceania squinted hard at him.
He made an exaggerated pose and then threw her as far away into the sea as he could. Which was barely inside the foam, and then the wave crashed and threw her rolling back onto the beach.
“Gee, thanks!” Oceania rolled her eyes as she rolled with the bottle. She didn’t mind the rolling. Being a messenger meant you got used to all the rolling. She shoved herself to one side and then pushed the other side of the bottle with a big, grunting, “Nyahhh!” from herself.
The bottle rolled back inside the water and got carried away by the currents.
No thanks to that wizardly pile of old bones, that was certain.
Okay, she was bobbing up and down on the water. Now, to find the recipient. She scratched her head. Usually, she had something to go on, some personal connection, a relationship, even a job application. But this? The old wizard sending out a letter saying, ‘Hug her’?
Hug who? It could be anyone hugging anybody. A man hugging his wife. Or, his mother, before she passed. Or, his daughter. Or even, she thought naughtily, his mistress. Those needed some lovin’ too.
But where to start?
Oceania pushed her bottle towards the north. She then stopped, stood straight, feeling the water in.
Mmm. Not warm enough.
She pushed north-west. Then centred herself again.
Mmm. Okay, this was warmer. So, north-west it is. “How hard can it be? There are only two-hundred islands that way,” she mocked to nobody in particular.
It took her a while, the wizard’s island was kinda isolated from the rest. Of course it was, nobody actually liked the old git. They sure did need him though.
She went to Samoa, and found a fisherman on his boat. “Hey, is there someone in your life that needs hugging?” she asked him, bobbing by.
“I could sure use one!” he said, licking his lips.
“Ew. So, no.”
Oceania carried on to Futuna. That place had nice people. She ended up in a pier, found a boy that had his pants rolled up and his legs in the water. He looked sad. “Hey, little man, is there someone in your life that needs hugging? Perhaps a sister?”
“I’m an only child,” the boy said.
“Well, this sucks,” Oceania said.
“I know,” the boy said and kicked the water.
“No, not your situation. Mine. I can’t find the recipient!”
“Not your fault, kiddo. Go make some friends or something.” Oceania left him too and followed the currents to Wallis.
It went kind of the same.
“Nope, just hugged my wife, if you know what I’m saying…”
“What am I, a sissy?”
Kiribati. Now she was deep into Micronesian waters.
“Sure, I’ll go hug my cousin. She looks like she needs it.”
Oceania was certain it wasn’t that guy, the waters were cold around her.
“Oh, I think you might be talking about my son-in-law. He’s over at the next island, that drunkard.”
That was cold too.
Disappointed, Oceania started to head back south-east, then cut it for straight south. She had a hunch.
Solomon Isles, deep in Melanesia.
“Nope, sorry, don’t know any women at all.”
“Seriously, none?” Oceania squeaked with her tiny voice, but wanted to get away from him.
“Sorry honey, but there are some girls that can offer you hugs over at Fiji.”
Oceania sighed and went there. It was on her way anyhow.
“Are you offering?” the dirty middle-aged guy asked.
“No! I’m asking if you have someone in your life that needs a hug. So you can give it to her.”
“Oh, I’m gonna-”
Oceania rolled her bottle back into the water, she didn’t wanna hear the rest of that obvious joke.
“Oh, I’m gonna go hug her right now!” a bubbly girl said, way too excited. She went up to her ‘just girlfriend’ and hugged her tight.
“Okay, I’m not judging, but just make it official, girls. Seriously!” Oceania yelled at them and rolled away.
She was getting pissed off. The sun was going down. She had wasted the entire day bobbing around the islands, and she still had no clue who the recipient of the message was. She was royally screwed.
What in Maui’s name was the wizard thinking?
At night, there were far less people around the beaches and piers. The fishermen would go out again at early morning, so she had to just wait it out for a couple of hours, get some rest. But this was her sweet million dammit! This was supposed to go without a hitch. That damn wizard! Why did he hate her so? Okay, she wasn’t the easiest to talk to, but she was good at her job, and she knew the wizard respected that.
She was the first one to even get close to a million messages, and she was this close to making it official. This close…
She cried, her tears filling in the bottom of the bottle, soaking in her feet. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair at all. She looked up at the night sky, it had come already. She bobbed up and down and looked at the stars, crying. How many were they? A million? More?
Well, she had just been robbed of her perfect score.
None of the messengers had ever lost a message before, certainly not her. And she only had tomorrow morning to find the recipient, or else she’d have failed. They’d have to change the postal service’s motto and everything, and this would be the utmost disgrace. She wouldn’t dare show her face around the others if that happened.
Who was she kidding.
When. When that happened, tomorrow night.
‘Hug her.’ What sort of message is that? Who even writes this shit? The old wizard does, apparently. Old git. Choke on your potion fumes.
She wanted to give up. She wouldn’t go back and face the other messengers after a failure of this magnitude. She’d just stay in her bottle and ride the waves wherever they took her.
Just never look back.
In the morning, the sun scorched her eyes. “Ugh,” she complained. Then she jumped up. “Shit, shit, I overslept! I was supposed to start early, dammit…”
She started rolling till she found a good current, and followed it to Tonga. Or was it Tongatapu? She always got these two confused.
Okay, time was up. She only had like five hours left. She needed to take a step back, think it through.
She assumed the message was for a human, but what if it was for a magical creature?
They had lives too, intelligence, heck, some even had better jobs than some of the islanders. She felt the water kinda warm. Finally, she was getting close.
The dolphin said she couldn’t hug anyone. “Well, duh,” Oceania said, slapping her forehead. “Stupid, stupid, stupid. Just wasting time, stupid.”
The monkey reached into the water from a leaning tree, holding itself from its feet. “I can hug my mommy. Is the message for me?”
Oceania sucked in air through her teeth. “Ugh… No, I’m not feeling it very warm here.”
The monkey blinked once and then peed, maintaining eye-contact the whole time. The pee made an arc that ended up to the water next to Oceania’s bottle.
Oceania just stood still and clenched her fists. “No,” she said, fighting down her rage. “That kind of warm water doesn’t change the fact that the message isn’t for you.”
Oceania sighed. This was her last resort. Huggie the Octopus was… Well, messengers tended to avoid him. He was slimy and lacked a backbone, literally. And he also…
Now that she thought of it, why did messengers avoid him? She didn’t really know. They just did, and she was the oldest one working from the new generation. There was nobody else around from the old school to ask about it.
She pushed her bottle in a few expert manoeuvres and rode the current into Huggie’s archipelago. Okay, he called it an archipelago, it was more like five rocks fallen into the sea in an arrow formation.
Huggie lived there, between the cracks in the rocks. Oceania went close and looked around. Huggie was nowhere to be seen. Oceania threw her arms in the air.
Of course. Just her luck. She only had twenty minutes on the clock and the hermit had decided to up and visit some friends!
Great. Just great…
She started to punch the inside of her bottle. Twink. Twink. That was the sound her tiny fist made when it impacted the glass.
She was so, so angry at losing her perfect score. Sweet million!
“Why are you doing that?” a nasal voice came from somewhere.
Oceania stopped. “Huggie? Is that you?”
“Yeth…” Huggie said timidly.
She squinted, covered her eyes with her hand, looked carefully. Just rocks. She couldn’t see him anywhere. “Where are you, I need to give you a message.”
“Huggie doethn’t like methages.”
“I don’t care. I think this message is for you, and I only have like ten minutes left, so, it’s not like I can get to another island in time.”
“Well, I don’t thee you!” she shouted. “And it’s rude to hide when you’re in the middle of a conversation!”
A side of the rock in front of her simply melted and seamlessly turned into an octopus, then changed colours again. “Huggie ith here. Can you thee him now?” the octopus asked, clearly right in her face, swimming around the bottle.
She calmed herself down. “Yes, I can see you…” she sighed.
“Now, your message is this: Hug her.” Oceania said, tapping her foot. She calculated she had only minutes to spare.
“Great. There, done, message delivered. Whoohoo! One million messages, baby! Suck it!” she cheered, making a little dance in her bottle.
“Not you. Don’t ruin it.”
“But the methage thays ‘Hug her.’ And I’m Huggie.”
Oceania froze and wiggled her finger at him. “No. No, no, no. Don’t even think about it.” Oceania spun her bottle and tried to get away.
“Huggie!” the octopus squealed in delight and sent one tentacle to grab her bottle. The suckers connected and locked in. She tried to wiggle out, but then another tentacle came and wrapped itself around the bottle, holding it tight.
“Lemme go, Huggie. Now!”
“Huggie!” the octopus said and pulled its body closer to her. All the tentacles now grabbed at the bottle. Oceania fell on the tilted bottle, pushed herself up with her hands. She went for the cork, she had delivered the message, now the magic would be gone. She could get out.
The tentacles wrapped around it. She looked around her, her entire world looked like suckers slapped onto the outside of her glass.
Oceania screamed. “Let me go!”
“Huggie!” the octopus repeated like an excited, eight-legged idiot.
Pop! The cork flew off.
A tentacle wiggled inside the bottle and wrapped around her. It pulled her up and out of the bottle. There was nothing she could do, the octopus was bigger, in its element, and she was tiny and weak.
Then Huggie wrapped a few more of its tentacles around Oceania. They were slick and squishy and very, very icky. She writhed and fought but it was pointless.
Oceania shut her eyes and accepted her fate.
“Huggie…” the octopus cooed and squeezed her softly, but not too much.
Oh, that was rather nice, actually.
She opened one eye and saw Huggie’s black eyes cooing close to her.
A tear came to her eye, and fell down into the water. “Nobody had ever done that to me…” she said softly.
“It’th okay. Huggie’th here.” The octopus nodded deeply at her, smiling.
She stuttered. For once in her life, she was speechless. “I-I don’t know what to say.”
“Thith ith your reward. Happy Thweet Million!” Huggie said, two of his tentacles wiggling in the air.
“Happy sweet million,” Oceania said solemnly. After a long while, she said softly, “Huggie?”
“Can you give me another hug, please?”
“Of courthe! Huggie givth the betht hugth.”
Oceania closed her eyes and hugged him back. “Yes, he does,” she said. “And I’m sure the wizard knew that.”