The motley crew of a gossip and fringe-events paper are sent on a wild goose chase in Iceland.
What was only meant to be a simple mission soon unravels more mysteries and ties with old and mad foes.
With Connie, Hilda, sweet Sophie, and Bossy, from the Paper, reporting odd bits of news, for everyone’s amazement.
So the Story goes...
The old man screeched to a halt, his car fishtailing wildly. His bad tempered frown at the slow moving traffic morphed in an instant into slack jawed eye popping amazement. The road had literally disappeared into an enormous hole. Good Lord! he shouted. Although he wasn’t a religious man he considered himself to be a gentleman, and didn’t swear in front of his wife. What the dickens is that? he asked her, but she was speechless with shock. The sports car they had been following, and the unmarked bus in front of it that had been holding the traffic up were nowhere to be seen.
Connie Leadbetter was nervous. It was her first date with Chad Pickins and the first time she’d been in his flashy sports car. They were on their way to a festival in Hot Springs to celebrate the magic of nature, oddly enough. Connie’s nervousness had manifested itself as a digestive system upset, and to her horror, she farted and followed through on the soft pink leather seat of Chad’s car. Mortified, she passionately wished that the ground would open and swallow her up.
The Tw’Elves, who weren’t allowed to talk on the bus, were busy discussing their situation telepathically. The previous week they had been arrested by Homeland Security as a threat to the nation, and were being transported to a detention camp in North Dakota. This eventuality wasn’t really part of their plan, but as so often happens, it slotted in nicely, albeit unexpectedly, with the Perforation Plans. Sink Holes had been appearing for some time in the middle of the north American continent, neatly following a north south line, stretching from Hudson Bay to the Gulf of Mexico, so the Tw’Elves mentally punched another hole in the perforation line to fascilitate their exit from the doomed bodies they were wearing at the time. Thus, the separation of the two halves of the continent came one hole closer to fruition.
The Energy Leprechaun gave himself a cake for another splendid synchronicity, seamlessly connecting Connie’s wish with the intention of the Tw’Elves.
Hilda “Red-Eye” Astoria jotted down a few more thoughts in her notebook, and pulled a red pen out of her top pocket to dot the i’s. It wasn’t that she was old, or even old fashioned by nature: at 42 she was as tech savvy as anyone, and had not been in the habit of writing things with pens on paper since she was at school. But the notepad and pens were part of the game, as was the Panama hat and the camel coat.
After a quick perusal of the days notes, Hilda smiled and snapped the notebook shut. The interview with the eccentric artist from the Flatlands had been even more entertaining than expected. She would enjoy writing the article. The Riddle of the Polar Molar, a tale to get your teeth into. Or Weird Tales from The Tooth Fairy Dimension. Or maybe “True Story: The 21st Century Time Traveler and the Iron Age Dentist”.
In the fashion section of Rim of the Realm, Connie “Continuity” Brown was weaving the latest reports together.
An unsavoury trend was gaining momentum in the meat factories to increase productivity: workers were wearing nappies to save wasting time visiting the lavatory.
The trend was spreading to banks and offices, where high heels and codpieces were required, causing a spate of unusual injuries and accidents, especially since the equality laws came into force, requiring both men and women to wear both high heels and codpieces ~ and nappies, due to the removal of time wasting unproductive lavatories worldwide.
Ever since she had read H.G. Wells’ “Time Machine” when she was 12, Sophie had been obsessed by the future. Now being a sweet old lady of 86, you would think she had used her share of the future and for most people her age it would be true. The trend would reverse and they would end up obsessed with the past.
But for sweet old Sophie, who was living in Eastend London, her interest in life was mostly fed by news of the future. She didn’t know how it was possible, but she certainly believed it was. And who better than a time traveller could send news from the future ?
She had been interested recently by an article about the telebeamer. They wanted to make you believe that in 2035 it was still impossible to transport yourself instantly from one place to another. She didn’t believe it of course. If time travel was possible, beaming yourself should be child’s play.
Sweet Sophie was not good at math when she was young, but she was good at puzzles. She had a knack with patterns and immediately see where the pieces fit together or not. The articles on that website were like puzzle pieces. All she had to do was sort out the facts from fiction and find her map to the time machine.
Now that she had found this invaluable source of information, she could plan her next move.
“I don’t know, I just feel that connecting with each other is part of the fun,” mumbled Ricardo Prout.
“We have to start somewhere!” retorted Connie in exasperation. “Do some research! Find some connecting links!”
“One should never underestimate the behind the scenes idea prompts,” remarked Hilda, somewhat cryptically. “Relax, Ric. And for heavens sake buck up a bit! Why don’t you take the rest of the day off, you’re distracting me from my work, as instructed by miss bossy behind the scenes pants.”
“But I don’t get what the others are writing, if I want to join, the safest is do my own stuff,” said Ricardo sadly. “And I thought this job was a fun team job.”
Connie couldn’t stop thinking about that odd but intriguing man she’d interviewed who’d almost been crushed under a wheel of gouda. Possibly rescuing the worm from under the doormat was connected, or at least, had served as a reminder to her to think of an excuse to contact him again. His cat like agility was most appealing. As was his codpiece.
“You’re lucky it wasn’t your hands,” said Tina. She had visited Quentin after Connie had left. Strange reporter that one. Kind of short sized with big eyes that never blinked. Tina snorted and dismissed the memory with a roll of her eyes, then looked at Quentin straight in the eyes, awaiting for his answer.
“The giant gouda ball, you’re lucky it didn’t roll on your hands.”
Quentin looked at Tina with a bit of concern in his eyes. She had been acting weird lately and making odd random connections between events and comments. He looked at his friend more closely. She had a bird nest on her head. With two eggs. It was a fake nest. He certainly hoped the eggs were too. He had no idea
“Anyway,” Tina said, “I won a trip to some island of the hidden people from the http://travellerofworlds.tp website. Wanna come with me, Quentin?”
He thought of his options. The most obvious response would be that he had no idea what a hidden people could be. If it was hidden it could very well be that it was hiddeous and needed to be hidden. On the other hand… Quentin looked at his other hand. It was empty.
“They say it’s on the rim of the realm,” added Tina as if she had read Quentin’s thought and need for a motive.
Now, he thought, the rim of the realm, that sounded quite an interesting unexplored territory to discover.
“When do we leave ? I need to ask Yannosh to pack my suitcase.”
Meanwhile in another part of town (or possibly in another dimension … it is not clear to the writer at this point but the writer is determined to carry on regardless — the editorial staff can clean it up later), Miss Bossy Pants managed to crawl her way out of bed, just long enough to send an urgent message:
Can’t possibly write today. One of you will need to do my contribution for the story. Thanks.
She contemplated adding a smile emoticon but feeling such a strong urge to punch it in the face decided that it was extraneous.
Ricardo had finished cleaning the tea cups in the empty office. He liked the job alright, it was a bit silly of him to surmise people would clean their own cups, and do their own teas. That was what he’d meant with the team job comment.
Connie and Hilda were right, totally right about it; he couldn’t expect too much, he’d just arrived, he was just a simple intern in a prestigious journalistic establishment. He’d come here to learn the tricks of the trade, when he’d answered the wanted: secretary and cleaner ad of last week.
So far, there was only so much golden nuggets of weirdo news he could find. You’d need some serious training to get to the level of Hilda and Connie, the dynamic duo.
For now, he was content to being put to menial tasks, it helped know the colleagues better, support them as he could with the pressure on the deadlines. And also, improving the typos and legibility by cleaning up the loose letters dropped during typesetting.
His own headline baiting skill was still rather low —it was an art to create the perfectly sexyied up heading, not too tacky, but enticing enough to captivate the readership’s attention.
If Hilda was the queen of headline fishing, Connie was undoubtedly the empress of headline baiting.
Yannosh had finished packing the suitcase. The Indian butler loathed more and more being in the employment of the evil and mad Mr Asparagus. He had no choice, the Asparagus cousins, Mr Quentin Sir, and Ms Tina M’am, were part of his undercover mission.
This time, he had taken extra pleasure in efficiently and neatly packing a month worth of Mr Quentin clothes in a bundle, all of them in the tinsiest suitcase he could find.
It would be a hell to unbundle, and a much bigger mess to repack properly. He hoped he would curse him as much as he did him.
He smiled thinking about the gouda incident. It had only missed the target by a few seconds, he would do better the next time.
Hilda was not up yet, probably passed out on her couch after a night of debauchery and snorting pepsain. As usual, she’d left a heap of links on her blog for Connie to choose from. Well, and of course, to sexy-bait them up. There were times she was glad she didn’t have to face all the people herself and interview them. Today was not one of them.
She gestured at the awkward new intern. He passed a head through the door. She didn’t give him the time to open his mouth. “Another chamomile tea,… thaaank you.” He disappeared hurriedly.
“At least this one gets me.”
For today, chamomile was the least of evils. Anything stronger would have her go full contact on any one daring to even look at her. If people knew the efforts she made daily.
Her self-defence instructor knew something about it. She almost sent him to the hospital last week.
Glancing upon the list of notes, she noticed that Hilda had made a highlight to double check on the gouda cat-like man. That was strange. Hilda wasn’t one to come back on stuff once shared and published. Definitively not the past-dwelling profile. There must have been something more.
“Well, know what, old tart: early bird gets the worm.”
She rose from the swivel chair, taking her purse swiftly and aiming for the exit door with the path of least eye-contact when the odd guy appeared again with the damn tea. She’d forgotten about that. Again, her brains firing at full speed, she didn’t leave him time to tell or ask anything.
“You don’t know where Joel is? Of course not…” The photographer was probably on another assignment. Had not been seen for weeks it seemed. Not that she cared, he would have been more like an alibi for her to go an a follow-up mission.
Sometimes her brains would also make her do the darnedest thing. She couldn’t stop herself from telling to the hapless intern.
“You look too happy Ric. Take your coat and come with me.”
Hilda woke up rubbing her jaw, recalling the odd dream about pulling a splinter of bone out of a hole in her mouth where a molar should have been. There had been a sharp point sticking out of her gum, and she pulled ~ and pulled ~ and the bone shard that appeared in her hand seemed much too big to have come out of her mouth. What does that symbolize, she wondered? She was sure miss bossy behind the scenes pants would have something wittily disparaging to say about the imagery. But then an idea struck her: perhaps it was part of the Polar Molar story that she was connecting to.
Hilda had been wanting to join the new Dream Investigation course for reporters, but felt the need to practice first before joining the class. There wasn’t much point in attending with no dream recall at all. Not much point in joining with just the bare bones, so to speak, of a rudimentary isolated snippet of recall either. Perhaps she’d go back to sleep and try to fill in some gaps. If she was late to the office, she could say she’d been following an unexpected lead on the story.
The phone rang, putting paid to Hilda’s intention of going back to sleep. There was evidence that the random face puncher had lashed out again, this time in Boston. Boston! Hilda quickly packed a flight bag, vaguely wondering why she didn’t have suitcase packing staff on hand. There was no time to watch a “how to pack a suitcase” video, either. The verdigris statue lay tits up on the smashed concrete sidewalk, indicating that the face puncher packed quite a punch. Hilda grinned at the thought of the danger bonus payment for this assignment, and then scowled at the thought of US customs crotch gropers. She toyed with the idea of wearing a codpiece stuffed with dried chamomile, just for a laugh, but thought better of it.
The meeting went surprisingly fast, it was almost disappointing.
The Indian butler with the turban told Connie that Mr Asparagus went for a trip of unknown duration to some hidden getaway, and wouldn’t be available for further questioning.
“That rude tart!” Connie fumed to herself, she had just been sent on another wild goose chase. Although the hidden getaway did seem intriguing, but she lacked the patience to quiz the help. She’d rather squeeze something violently, which she took as a cue to a prompt exit before further damage.
“That guy looked suspicious” Ric managed to say as they were leaving.
Connie’s brains wasn’t performing at peak form when she was getting angry, so she only managed to roll her eyes, thinking about how everyone looked suspiciously in need of a punch these days.
“Yeah, he kind of looked Sikh, no big deal.”
It was almost lunchtime. She tried to bip Hilda, but got her voice message saying she was on business trip. Again… That tart had the shortest attention span Connie had ever seen. Coupled with inexhaustible capacity at marveling at stuff, it made her quite good at her job, and seeing things always with a new angle.
It was now official. She was depressed. That was a good tentative at stepping out of the comfort bubble today.
Then, when she spotted a few Chinese housewives doing Chinese zumba in the park at the sound of a loud music, she thought…
Maybe she had time to push it a little further.
“What?” Ricardo was the first one to notice the slanderous pamphlet in the competing gazette.
“… the catchy headlines which deceivingly sells awe and amazement aplenty, while in the end amounting to the least possible information, and not even accurate or substantiated, makes you wonder if the dutifully reported oddities are not coming from the brains of their satirical redaction cousin The Courgette.”
Bossy wouldn’t like that. Nor would Connie. Oh no, not like it at all.
“Bloody ridiculous if you ask me, asking for trouble,” replied the young trainee janitor, Godwin. “I could have told her, it’ll come to no good tampering with mother natures emotions,” he added, wiping a tear from his eye.
“Steady on, what are you crying for? Pull yourself together, boy, and go and clean them toilets.”
Godwin gave Flanigan a withering look, and stomped off towards the lavatories, sniffing loudly.
Miss Bossy Pants contemplated her pale and wan appearance in the bathroom mirror. She wondered if she was well enough to turn up at work today.
Don’t want anyone else to catch anything off me…
However, It was important they did not lose momentum with the competition out there chomping at their heels.
“There is too much talking about writing and not enough actual writing,” Bossy grumbled to her reflection while she dealt to the under eye circles with some concealer.
Of course, that was Hilda to a T; always yabbering on about some stupendous idea for a story but when it came to actually putting pen to paper … well that was quite another matter.
Connie had started out with some potential but was becoming increasingly aggressive and alienating her leads.
How many times must I tell her that clenching her fists and refusing to make eye contact makes her appear shifty and untrustworthy? Bossy slammed some lipstick on her mouth with unnecessary force.
And that new staff member, what’s his name?
Prout, that’s right.
Bright enough but a bit of a moaner. Bad for morale all that moaning. As for sweet old Sophie, the temp, she seemed to be losing more and more marbles by the minute.
Back at her desk after a crash course at zumba with the Chinese team, Connie was sorting her e-mails (meaning sending them to trash). Nothing fancy, nothing catchy, nothing to grab her attention span for more than a minute.
The noise of the open space was making her feel drowsy. Maybe a coffee would help her wake up, or maybe if something could happen to stir the pot. Connie deleted a few more e-mails to show the others that she was a busy reporter before leaving her desk.
Passing by the desks of her colleagues, Connie looked surreptitiously at their computer screens and saw that everyone was playing the busy game. It was sad to recognize that good news (meaning bad news) were hard to come by nowadays.
In times like these, she had to resist the tentation to create her own news, it was not that kind of press. But still toying with the idea and making up some outrageous stories with her team was a way to make time fly away more quickly. Once, Hilda had even reused one of the titles for a real stories that sadly happened shortly after she had made it up.
Rumour had it that Hilda’s great grand mother was a gypsy and could do palm reading. The gran even used palm tree leaves to do her reading when there was nobody, you just had to cut the leave in the shape of the person you wanted to read the future and she would tell you all about them. She was good.
“It runs in the family,” Hilda had said. “It’s helpful to be at the right place at the right time.” And for sure she was the most prolific reporter of the agency.
Connie sure would have used some of Hilda’s medium inner sight to know when something would happen.
She made herself a cappuccino and with the milk drew the face of Al Pacino. Many years at a press agency and you learn a few tricks to impress your friends.
She heard the slow and uneven pace of sweet old Sophie behind her. She sighed, she didn’t want to have to answer another of her dumb questions about the future. If Hilda could read bits of the future, Sophie was always thirsty about it. Maybe that’s why Hilda was more often in the field and not so often at her desk.
Connie turned and almost dropped her cappuccino as the old lady handed her a Fedex envelop.
“Sorry,” said sweet old Sophie, “That just arrived for you. I wonder what it is.”
“I’m sure you do,” muttered Connie.
“It’s from Santa Claus,” said the old lady with a conniving smile.
Connie looked at the old lady, with a forced smile. Was insanity a cause to get rid of one of your employee ? She took the package with one hand. Heavier than she had expected. When she saw the address, she couldn’t believe it was real. The sender’s and city’s names were certainly fake. Jesus Carpenter, Santa Claus, AZ
Sophie was still there, looking at Connie with a big smile.
“What are you waiting for ?” the reporter asked.
“Aren’t you opening it?”
Connie considered opening the package, but the avidity on the old face was making her uncomfortable. “Nope,” she said. With her cappuccino and the package she went back to her desk. Sweet Sophie was still looking at her with that greedy smile on her face. Connie shivered and shook her head. It was obvious, the old tramp was mad.
She touched the package, trying to guess what was inside. As no convincing guess presented itself in her mind, she stripped it open. There was an iPhone 5 SE with 64Gb memory in it, two plane tickets for Keflavik in Iceland, and a note.
‘If you want a good story prepare your suitcase. Bring Sweet Sophie with you. We’ll contact you once you are there.’
Connie thought of a joke. She checked the package and no matter how many times she looked it was still her name. She looked toward the cafeteria and she shuddered. Sweet Sophie was still looking at Connie with that strange smile, as if she knew. Or as if she had sent the package herself, the reporter thought.
“Someone knows where Hilda is ? I need to talk to Hilda.”
“Oh, there you are Hilda, can I have a word?”
Hilda started guiltily at Connie’s voice, and pushed her teacup behind a stack of papers on her desk. Slurping down the last of the tea before making her way to the airport for the Boston flight, she hadn’t been able to resist looking into the dregs for a minute or two. What she’d seen had made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. But what was she to do about it? And now here was Connie, fidgeting in the doorway. Well, see what she wants first, Hilda told herself, and then decide.
Hilda’s head was spinning. Should she say nothing, let Connie take the flight, and hope for the best? Or try and prevent her making the trip, just in case? How accurate was her tea leaf reading really? What if she had misinterpreted the signs? It could be too embarrassing. Better just hope for the best and say nothing.
“Sorry Connie, must dash.” Hilda quickly gathered her things together and shoved them in the flight bag at her feet. Pushing past Connie she said, “Er, have a good trip!” and with a sickly smile she fled.
When Hilda arrived at the airport an hour later, she made a snap decision to change her flight. Luckily there were a few seats left to Keflavik in Iceland. She really hadn’t fancied Boston and the crotch grabbers anyway. She wouldn’t tell the others she was already in Iceland, but at least she would be there to monitor events as they unfolded.
“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.”
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.”