Newsreel from the Rim of the Realm

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      A tiny dot of red light was peeking through the horizon line. It grew and grew until it became clear to Quentin that he would be rolled over by a giant wheel of gouda. Luckily, his cat-like reflexes allowed him to dodge that dreadful fate, and become the first showcased resident of the local newsreel of bits of odd news.

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        “Don’t be silly dear, Hilda’s in Boston,” replied Sophie. Damn! she thought to herself. What was she doing here?


          “Did you have to make such a scene!” Yannosh hissed into the phone. “You were noticed!”

          The Indian butler looked furtively over his shoulder, but there was no sign of Mr Asparagus leaving the hotel bar yet.

          “Yes, yes, I know they’re calling it a dust devil but….”

          Hearing someone approaching Yannosh quickly pocketed the phone, but it was only the chambermaid, Finnbjörg.

          “Góðan dag herra, er allt í lagi?” she asked politely, and then added, ““क्या सब ठीक है? मैंने सुना है कि आप धूल शैतान का उल्लेख?”

          Yannosh was taken aback. How many languages did this island bumpkin speak?


            Unaware that she’d been spotted at Keflavik airport, a few hours later Hilda was happily sipping a cocktail in the glass-walled Northern Lights bar of the Ion hotel, listening to eerie Icelandic folk tunes and marveling at the mystical ambiance of the place. She was particularly taken with the surreal moss covered lava fields outside, and congratulated herself on her decision to lay low in a remote location for a day or two, while the dust settled, so to speak.


              “I recommend the reindeer stew,” said the waiter with a slight nod towards the menu in his hand, yet not taking his eyes off Connie’s face.

              Connie started with excitement. Reindeer stew? Reindeer was the code word!

              “Ah, yes, thank you but I couldn’t possibly eat … Rudolph,” she replied.

              Sophie snorted from across the table. “Prancer! you idiot,” she hissed. “You couldn’t possibly eat Prancer.”

              “Prancer! I mean Prancer!” Connie giggled nervously however the waiter’s expression remained inscrutable.

              “Very well,” he said, surreptitiously slipping a folded note into the menu and placing it on the table. “Let us see if we have something more to your taste.”

              “Rudolph!“cackled Sophie as soon as the waiter was out of earshot. “Lucky I was here you bonehead. You could have messed up the whole mission.”

              Connie wondered why people tended to preface Sophie’s name with “sweet”.

              Rude, cantankerous, nasty old biddy, she thought and felt a familiar twitching in her clenched fist.

              Taking a deep breath, Connie managed a forced smile. Better to stay on good terms, at least for now.

              “Thanks for that, Sophie. What would I do without you? Let’s see what this note says, shall we?”

              Carefully looking around to make sure they were not being watched, Connie unfolded the note.

              “If you want to learn about elves, you need to go to Elf School”, she read.

              “My word,” said Sophie. “How delightfully delphian.”


                Connie excused herself from an after dinner drink with Supposedly Sweet Sophie, pleading indigestion from the sour berries in the reindeer stew. It was only half a lie: she did feel sour, but she didn’t know why. Locking the hotel bedroom door behind her, she leaned on it and let out a long sigh. Being annoyed all the time was starting to get so annoying.

                In an attempt to lighten her mood and release some pent up energy, she found an exercise video and pressed play. When she saw the fitness instructor using weights on her ankles she had an idea. Scanning the room, she noticed a pair of matching concrete buddhas either side of the balcony doors. Perfect! Connie thought, and with gritted teeth strapped one to each ankle with a couple of brassieres. Now when I take them off, I’ll feel the impossible lightness of being.


                  “I am going to have to buy a new bra before we can check out Elf school,” said Connie the next morning. “I only brought two with me and the straps are broken on both.”

                  Despite Sophie’s quizzical look, Connie decided not to explain any further.


                    Sophie ordered another coffee. She recalled seeing a fence along the side of the road, somewhere between Selfloss and Vik, that was strung with bra’s. What had Connie been doing there during the night? And what was the meaning of the fence full of brassieres anyway, and what did that have to do with Connie?


                      Connie noticed the old woman was frowning a lot this morning, and thought to herself, Not so sweet after all, the old trout. In a funny sort of way, it endeared her to Connie in a way that the endless cheery sweetness had not.

                      “There’s no Elf School in the directory, but there is a Tw’Elf Centre, do you suppose this is the one?”

                      “May as well check it out,” replied Sophie.

                      “Representatives of the twelve continents of the earth?” Connie read, adding, “Sounds like some kind of mumbo jumbo fringe nutjob stuff if you ask me.”

                      “What, less nutjob than an Elf School?” replied Sophie with a snigger. Connie laughed, beginning to warm towards the old dear. “I’d be interested to hear more about the anticipated merger with the Bermuda Triangle.”


                      The woman sitting next to me on the plane never stopped talking, she must have told me her whole life story, Aunt Idle wrote in her diary. It was a long flight from Australia to Iceland, I’m not complaining ~ it was quite an entertaining story. She said she came from Blue Lagoon campsite in the Adirondacks originally, although that was many moons ago, as she put it. Then she joined the army, but she didn’t tell me much about that, only that she’d been posted to Kenya and had taken to the place, always meant to go back and never did. She’s been married twice, once to a northerner called Bert Wagstaff, but that didn’t last long ~ nice enough guy, she said, but a bit boring. No kids. Then to Trudell. That was another story she said, but didn’t elaborate.

                      She said something about investigating fungus but the drinks trolley appeared. She asked for Blue Sapphire gin but they only had Gordon’s, and then she started going on about when she was in India. She had a book in her hands the whole flight, although she didn’t stop talking long enough to read much, it was The Rabbit, by Peter Day, with a picture of an upright man with a rabbit head on the cover, all in white, rather surreal.


                        Disappointed at the lack of interesting activity in Iceland, Hilda made a snap decision to catch the first flight to Liverpool. The news of the mysterious plague doctor roaming the streets of Chester had piqued her curiosity.

                        Was it an omen or just some fool in a fancy dress costume? Maybe it was a time traveler. If so, it would be worth investigating further.


                          The hotel manager closed the red ledger in a loud flap, releasing a cloud of dark dust. Connie wondered if it was becasue of that volcano with the unspeakable name which had been fuming again since their arrival.

                          “There is no vacancy”, he said.

                          “But, we had a reservation”, said Sweet Sophie with her sweetest voice.

                          “Maybe you had, but had is in the past. Now there is no vacancy.”

                          Sweet Sophie took a deep breath in and tried to imagine the poppy ground of her hometown in Cornwall. It didn’t work. She didn’t feel relaxed nor did she feel bliss. She had no imagination for that kind of positive thinking, her mind only worked for conspiracies and time paradoxes.

                          Connie had been looking at her watch repeatedly, and breathing heavily. They had been trying to get past this man for fifteen minutes. His face was as pleasant as a Gib’s monkey ass. Not as Maybe not as comfortable to sit on though. Sweet Sophie couldn’t think with all the noise Connie was doing. She knew there was a solution, and she didn’t want to go to another hotel, their instructions were specific, get a room at Diamond Suites hotel.

                          “It’s no use”, said Connie. “Let’s find another hotel. I’ve been told there is one called Blue Lagoon part of a wonderful Spa.”

                          “Shush”, said Sophie. “I’m thinking.”

                          “That would be a first”, said Connie with a conniving smile.

                          Sweet Sophie didn’t pay attention, she was used to rudeness. Instead she looked at the manager’s ugly face and suddenly had an idea that might have come from the past but could be applied in the present to get them a key.

                          “Of course it was in the past”, she began, “We just forgot to take the key of our rooms.”

                          “Very well”, said the manager, “What are your room numbers ?”

                          Sweet Sophie smiled. There was some progress. What did the letter say again ?


                            Hilda regretted her decision to fly to the British Isles, now that she was caught up in all the Fuxit brouhaha. The mysterious plague doctor in Chester had turned out to be nothing more than a common madman, looking for a party to crash. The Mexican band with a wheelbarrow full of bricks welcoming the orange toupee’d buffoon from the west had been momentarily amusing, but was nothing more than another common madman looking for a party to crash as far as Hilda could see, and not worth further investigation, but the madness that had enveloped the country over the Fuxit was another matter.

                            Exit mania had swept the country ~ and not only the country, but the continent as well. Doors were falling off their hinges on buildings across Europe with the rush of people demanding to leave, or trying to keep others out. Irate women were pushing their husbands out of the front door and locking them out, while shop assistants slammed the doors shut on customers, exercising their rights to determine who should be allowed in, and who should leave. “Exit” signs on motorways were set alight and exit ramps barricaded, lighted exit signs in nightclubs were smashed. Herds of dairy cows smashed down gates and roamed the streets, and sheep huddled next to boarded doorways.

                            Itinerant builders were in high demand to fix broken hinges on gates and doors, and the memes about the population becoming unhinged quickly ceased to amuse in the utter mayhem.

                            Hilda decided to get a flight back to Iceland as soon as possible. As an investigative reporter, she knew she should stay, but justified leaving on the grounds that a wider picture was imperative. And frankly, she’s seen enough!

                            But leaving the beleaguered nation was not going to be easy. The airline websites had been closed, and the doors on the travel agents had either been boarded up or had been removed altogether, and nobody was staffing the premises. The motorway exit ramp to the airport had been barricaded. Not to be deterred, Hilda left her hire car on the side of the road, and dragged her flight bag across the waste ground towards the airport building. The place was deserted: the doors on all the aircraft had been removed, and emergency exit signs lay smashed on the tarmac.

                            “Then I have no other option,” Hilda said, “But to teleport.”


                              A flash of orange fur caught Hilda’s eye. Inwardly groaning, she imagined it to be the peculiar joker from the west again. When the orange creature suddenly leaped up into a sycamore tree and started swinging from branch to branch Hilda realized that was unlikely.

                              “A Sumatran orangutan!” Hilda exclaimed, rather thrilled at the unexpected encounter, and completely forgetting her intention to teleport back to Iceland.


                                John placed himself down on a crooked old chair at the table, with journal in hand, and stared out the window of his cottage. As he sat there, the imperfect glass of the window distorted his view slightly, but noticeably, almost unconsciously, and he swayed in minuscule displacements or perhaps shifted a bit to take a sip of his black coffee, giving the effect of a liquid world – to someone of imagination, of course. To those with no imagination, the window was rubbish and needed to be replaced.

                                It’s been a relaxing weekend for John, who, on his working days, finds himself as a writer. This is, of course, if you were to think of any days as those in which you might suddenly stop writing or ignore inspiration. In that respect, every day is a working day. However, this weekend was a special one for himself.

                                The writing that got him money was of the technical sort, dedicated to dry manuals and instructional fare. His passion, however, lent itself to the imagination. No doubt, he still adored the natural world and it’s workings, but he found himself nearly dead inside after completing a project for work. This, invariably, lead him to his personal expeditions.

                                Every few weeks he’d save up enough money to take a train or bus to another location, picked nearly at random, just so he could get away and bring color back into his life. This cottage, with its imperfect windows, was one such expedition.

                                So, he sat there for a moment, playing with his perception through the window, and then shifted his attention through it to world outside. A breath of beauty swept over him and he was inspired. In his journal, with no expectation of the entry living beyond those pages, he wrote:

                                The Wystlewynds (Whistle Winds) or Wystlewynd Forest

                                The Wystlewynds (Whistle Winds) or Wystlewynd Forest is a forested, mountainous area – if you’re apt to call these green, low laying perturbations in the Earth “mountains”. The cool-yet-comfortable south-easterly winds blow through the Wystlewood trees, whistling as it goes. Some would say the forest sings.

                                Wystlewood trees “sing”, as it were, due to the way the wind passes through their decomposing trunks. While alive, the trunks of the trees have a hard, fibrous outer wood, while the inner portion is soft and sponge-like, saturated in chemical that simultaneously grabs on to water and repels insects. When the trees get old and begin to die off, they tend to remain upright for some time as the inner sponge decomposes. This leaves a hollow void where a particular caterpillar takes refuge, unaffected by the repellent chemical that a fungus slowly decomposes into an edible source of nutrition.

                                These caterpillars leave behind a secretion that the decomposing fungus in the tree requires. The relationship between the caterpillar and fungus is symbiotic in that regard, both feeding each other. We call these caterpillars “Woodworms”.

                                When the caterpillars are ready to cocoon, they climb out to one of the old branches and hang themselves from a cord of twisted threads at least a foot long. When they are ready to come out, they bite through the cord, dropping themselves to the forest floor while still in the cocoon. The cocoon and all drops below the foliage of the undergrowth, where the moth can come out into the world under cover of green leaves and the shimmering violet flowers of the Spirit Flower – a color scheme that the moth shares.

                                The Spirit Flower is a rhizome with a sprawling root structure that tends to poke it’s way into everything. It has small violet shimmering flowers in umbels that in any other case might be white. The leaves are simple with a jagged margin, alternating. The stem is on the shorter end, perhaps a foot tall, fibrous and slightly prickly.

                                There are a few flowers that tend to dominate the undergrowth, Spirit Flowers being one. Sun Drops and Red Rolls are additional examples, the former a yellow droopy flower and the latter a peculiar red flower with a single pedal that’s rolled up in a certain way that would suggest a flared funnel with wavy edges.

                                The flowers and trees enjoy the soil here, a bit sandy and rocky, but mixed with a richness created by the mixture of undergrowth, fungi and bacteria. The roots dig into the soil, slowly stirring it and adding to it’s nutrients. The fungi eat the dead roots and fallen foliage and the bacteria eat the fungi and everything else, of course.

                                The whole matter leaves a note of scent in the air that cannot be described as anything other than that of the Wystlewynds. It’s perhaps sweet, with Earthy undertones and an addictive bitterness. The whole place seems to elevate one’s energy, sharpening the senses. You want to sing with the trees, or perhaps play along with a haelio (a flute-like instrument created with wystlewood).


                                  View (yes, his name is “View”) exited his building and before he had a chance to see anything else in the world, there in front of him, plopped down in the middle of the street with a piece of paper and charcoal, was a little boy, apparently doing a rubbing of the pavement.

                                  View was immediately curious.

                                  “So, what are you doing, exactly?”

                                  The boy, slightly disgruntled, stopped what he was doing and looked up at View.

                                  “Well that’s an obsurd question. You’d think it was obvious. I’m creating a map.”

                                  “A map?!” View said, “How’s that? I don’t get it.”

                                  The boy turned back to his rubbing, filled the page, set another down right beside it and began rubbing again.

                                  “It’s the greatest map of it’s kind, exquisitely drawn up in perfect 1:1 scale.”


                                  “Where the devil is everyone?”

                                  Miss Bossy Pants looked around the empty office with a mixture of disappointment and confusion. She had been anticipating the surprised looks on her colleagues’ faces at her unannounced return —she had no illusions about her popularity and knew better than to expect a joyous reunion—but the room was disconcertingly empty.

                                  Hearing the door behind her, she spun around in relief. It was the new guy, Prout, carrying a brown paper bag and a take out coffee.

                                  “Hello!” he said, hoping he did not sound as awkward as he felt and wondering if he could back out the door again. He had only met Bossy a couple of times and found her bluntness disconcerting. Terrifying, even. There was no reply, so, taking a sip of his steaming coffee, he bravely persevered.

                                  “Welcome back. How are you feeling?”

                                  “Are you the only one here? Where is everyone?” snapped Bossy Pants.

                                  Ricardo took a deep breath and focused on a wilted pot plant on the window ledge.

                                  God, I hope I don’t start rambling.

                                  Connie and the temp, Sophie, went to Iceland … something about following a lead from Santa Claus and I’ve not heard from them since. And Hilda … I don’t know where Hilda went to be honest. She emailed me a few days ago wanting to know what to feed Orangutans.”

                                  Bossy had paled. She seemed to shudder slightly and put out a hand to steady herself on a nearby desk.

                                  “They eat mostly fruit,” he continued, “but other stuff too of course. Insects and flowers and stuff like that. Honey I think, if they can find it I guess, and bark. And leaves. Mostly fruit though.”

                                  That’s probably enough about the Orangutans. She is clearly not into it.

                                  “I got a bit held up actually; there is a young boy outside drawing maps. Quite young … youngish. I am not sure how old really but he was little.They are bloody good too—there is quite a crowd out there watching him draw.”

                                  “Iceland,” whispered Bossy, her face a deathly white colour.

                                  “Yeah, Iceland. Keflavik … Miss Bossy, are you sure you are well enough to be back? You don’t look so good. I mean, you look good … attractive of course … I don’t mean you look bad or anything but you do look sort of pale. Are you okay?”

                                  “Santa Claus.” Bossy sat down slowly.

                                  “Yeah … I know, a bit crazy, right? They seemed to think it was a really hot lead.”

                                  “Stupid idiots; the lead wasn’t from Santa Claus— I will bet my life that it was from that depraved scoundrel, Dr Bronkelhampton! I heard through the grapevine he had gone to Iceland with a new identity after the Island fiasco destroyed his reputation—we covered the story at the time and it was huge—and now he is clearly after revenge. Dear God, what have they got themselves into?”


                                    “Shall I put the kettle on, Miss Pants?” asked Ricardo. A bit melodramatic, he felt, probably best to humour her.


                                    “Thanks,” said Bossy taking her cup of tea.

                                    “So, tell me more about this evil fruit-loop doctor,” said Ricardo with an encouraging smile.

                                    Bossy looked intently at him. “It’s no joke,” she admonished him sharply.

                                    “Oh, no. No, of course not. I mean, yeah, I really want to know. It all sounds very … intriguing. And sort of creepy, to be honest. But definitely not a joke.”

                                    Bossy relented and gestured imperatively for Ricardo to be seated.

                                    The doctor could best be described as a mad genius. He believed he had found the answer to looking eternally youthful but didn’t want to go through the time and expense of clinical trials through the normal channels. So he set up a testing laboratory on a small and relatively unknown Pacific Island. Tifikijoo, I believe it was called.”

                                    “Uh huh. Actually I do vaguely remember something about that story.”

                                    “We got the story first,” Bossie said proudly, “but there was a media ban on publishing some of the information, unfortunately. The Doctor managed to get funding for his tests through an undercover organisation whose hidden agenda was to hide an ancient crystal skull while at the same time providing them with a facility where they could continue their own secret testing into spider genomes. I can’t tell you too much about that — it was all hush hush. So, you wouldn’t have read about that in the news, I bet,” she added with a smug smile.

                                    “Uh, no,” answered Ricardo, privately wondering if Bossy was the mad one. It was all starting to feel a bit surreal to him.

                                    “Did the doctor know about the skull stuff?”

                                    “No, the doctor was genuinely only interested in preserving beauty. Unfortunately, to this end, he killed one of his first guinea pigs. And tried to disguise his crime by mummifying the body. That’s when it all began to implode on him.”

                                    “What happened to him?”

                                    “He had some good lawyers and was found not competent to stand trial on the grounds of insanity. And the fact that all his clients had signed liability waivers helped a bit. He was sent to a high security psychiatric institution but managed to escape by reverting to his female identity—he was transsexual—and hiding in a laundry trolley.

                                    The doctor hated the way he was portrayed in the media and most of his venom was focused on our people. We had a guy working with us then, John Smith, and he covered the story with Connie. They got the brunt of the hate emails. John nearly had a nervous breakdown with the stress of it and moved to the country. Pity, he was a good writer.”

                                    “So what makes you think Santa Claus and the doctor are one and the same?”

                                    “Call it a very strong hunch. The Doctor was born in Iceland and had strong family ties there. And now I fear he has lured Connie and Sophie there in order to exact his evil revenge!”


                                    Aunt Idle was going to visit her old friend Margit Brynjúlfursdóttir. It was all very hush hush: Margit had intimated that there was to be a family reunion, but it was to be a surprise party, and she mustn’t breathe a word of it to anyone. Margit had sent her the tickets to Keflavik, instructing her to inform her family and friends that she had won the trip in a story writing competition.

                                    It was Idle’s first trip to Iceland. She had met Margit in a beach bar near Cairns some years ago, just after the scandalous expose on the goings on of a mad doctor on a remote south Pacific island. The Icelandic woman had been drowning her sorrows, and Idle had been a shoulder to cry on. The age old story of a wayward son, a brilliant mind, so full of potential, victim of a conniving nurse , and now sadly incarcerated on the wrong side of the law.

                                    Aunt Idle didn’t immediately make a connection between the name Brynjúlfursdóttir and Bronklehampton, indeed it would have been impossible to do so using conventional means, Icelandic naming laws and traditions being what they were. But the intuitive Idle had made a connection notwithstanding. The maudlin woman in the beach bar was clearly the mad doctors mother.

                                    Idle had invited Margit to come and stay at the Flying Fish Inn for a few weeks before returning to Iceland, a visit which turned out to last almost a year. Over the months, Margit confided in her new friend Idle. Nobody back home in Iceland knew that the doctor in the lurid headlines was her son, and Margit wanted to keep it that way, but it was a relief to be able to talk about it to someone. Idle wasn’t all that sure that Margit was fully in the picture regarding the depths to which the fruit of her loins had sunk, but she witnessed the womans outpourings with tact and compassion and they became good friends.

                                    The fasten your seatbelts sign flashed and pinged. The landing at Keflavik was going to be on time.


                                    “Well, hello there! My name is Barbara, I will be your host during your stay at the Hidden People Estate of Genethic Rejuvenation. Welcome Ms and Mr Asparagus !”

                                    Barbara’s luscious mane of blond hair was a sight to behold. Tina was almost jealous. She quickly remembered her guru’s words of the day.

                                    “ Dogs bark at what they don’t understand: See the Positive

                                    So despite her hopes for a less effusive (almost annoyingly American) introductions, she got her critical mind busy with quickly finding five things to appreciate about Barbara. It was tougher that it looked. Well, for one, she liked the cleanliness of her white nurse blouse…

                                    Barbara’s chatter seemed inexhaustible, as they coursed through the grounds of the Estate.
                                    “Of course, we have arranged for your appointment with the best doctors, they will get you in tip-top shape in no time” she giggled irrepressibly.

                                    Tina glanced at Quentin. Her cousin was calm as a clam, as usual. He didn’t even seem to register the strangeness of that establishment.

                                    “I’ll be leaving you to have a hot shower, and refreshments, complimentary of the house of course, and I’ll be meeting you later. Dinner will be served at 7, please be on time. Tomorrow morning, breakfast is served from 7 to 9, and your appointment is at 9:30, with Dr B. In case you need anything, you have my number.” Barbara giggled again, blinking at Quentin in what could hardly be construed as flirting.

                                    “I’ll skip dinner Q, see you at breakfast tomorrow”, Tina closed the door on her cousin without ceremony.

                                    She finally collapsed on the bed, crushed by fatigue of the flight, jet-lag and all that road trip through small European winding paths. Made you almost miss Maine.

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