Fiction Tuesday – Insert Coin

Today’s blog continues my long-neglected satirical fantasy, In The Land of the Penny Gnomes

“Hey. Hey, get up.”

Will MacGil felt himself being shaken in his bed. He cracked his eyes open enough to see how far the Sun had risen. After all, he had a History test in the morning and was looking to hold off getting out of bed as long as possible. As will turned toward his bedroom window he expected to catch a bit of sunlight coming in through the glass, but was shocked to see none. It was still dark outside. “Aw, c’mon, Dad. I said I studied last night, I don’t want to get up early!” The hands which had been shaking him slowly lifted off is body, and Will heard his floorboards creaking a bit. “Good, at least Dad’s in a merciful mood today,” he thought. He rolled his head away from the window and prepared to settle in for some more sleep by pulling his covers over his head. Before he settle back into his comfortable slumber, however, the covers were yanked completely off his body. Suddenly faced with the chill in his room, Will shot upright in bed and cried out, “Hey, what gives?” He expected to see his father standing over his bed, attempting to express a stern look on his face. What he actually saw as his eyes came it to focus was something else entirely.

There, standing by his bed, was a man he’d never before seen. The man was short, had a black beard which came down to his waste, and in the dim light he could just make out his clothing was made up of a patchwork of bright colors. Adorning the man’s head was a floppy hat, almost like a beret. In the twilight Will couldn’t see the man’s facial expression well, but he could tell he was grimacing slightly. Despite his sudden fear, Will had a moment to think, “I think that’s the face Dad tries to make when he’s trying to show authority.” Unlike his father, however, Will could tell the stranger wasn’t trying to keep from laughing at himself.

“Look kid, I’m not your Dad. And I really don’t care what you studied last night. Get up, get dressed, and let’s get going.”

Will stared at the man, “Get going? Huh? Who are you? Why are you here?”

The man rolled his eyes, “OK, here’s the deal. First, yes ‘going.’ Second, that was really well-spoken there. Third, I’m Bug Moume. Fourth, I figure it’s pretty obvious — I was sent to get you. Now, get up, get dressed, and let’s get going.”

Will didn’t move, “Sent? Why? Where do you think you’re taking me?”

Bug took hold of Will’s arm and pulled him out of bed. Will expected himself to be alarmed by this strange man suddenly grabbing him, but was surprised at his own sense of calm. Despite his forcefulness, the man who called himself “Bug” didn’t seem to be threatening. “Kid, look, I’m not the answer man. I’m a Penny Gnome. I had to jump in line ahead of some really touchy people to come get you, and I’m breaking about a hundred rules by even talking to you. So can you please just get up and get dressed so we can get going?”

Will wanted nothing more but to climb back in bed and pretend he wasn’t having this conversation, but something Bug said caught his ear. “A Penny Gnome? Like in Grandpa’s stories?”

“I don’t know who ‘Grandpa’ is, or what stories he knows — but if he knows about us… I’ve got to say I’m impressed.”

“But you can’t be real! The Penny Gnomes are just a story!”

Bug looked up at Will, who towered over him not that he had been stood up. He shrugged slightly and then, without warning, stomped Will’s foot with his boot.

“Ow!” he yelled, as he began to hop around the room. “That hurt!

Bug grinned slightly, “Still think I can’t be real? Now get up, get dressed, and let’s get going.”

Will shook his head, “Why would I go anywhere with you? And now that you’ve made me scream out I think you ought to ‘get going.’ My parents are going to be in here any second!”

Bug’s grin widened, “Really? Stop hopping for a second and listen. What do you hear.”

Will slowly dropped his throbbing foot to the floor and heard… nothing. He couldn’t believe after his shouting and hopping his parents weren’t rumbling out of bed to figure out what the commotion was. He looked down at Bug, who continued to grin, “How are they not up? What did you do to them?”

Bug waved his hand hand dismissively, “Ah they’re fine, kid. The Prof just cooked up something in the lab to keep my retrieval from getting interrupted. They can’t hear anything going on in this room.”

Will turned towards his door. “So, if I go out in the hall and scream they’ll hear me then?”

Bug’s grin disappeared, and a look of worry filled his features. He’d miscalculated, and he knew it. “Uh, something like that. Yah.” As will began to reach for his door, Bug blurted out, “Wait!” Surprised, Will actually stopped and found himself turning back towards Bug.”

“Why should I wait? You’re some strange man in my room who thinks he’s part of my Grandpa’s stories. Why shouldn’t I get my parents?”

Bug held up both his hands. “Look,” he said with a sigh. “I’m sorry to freak you out, I really am. I still don’t know who Grandpa is, but I am a Penny Gnome. And I really need to bring you with me, the Prof says we need you.”

“Why me, I thought Penny Gnomes just wanted trinkets like keys and cell phone chargers. Why would someone want me?”

To Will’s surprise, Bug actually laughed. “Oh, kid, that’s good. You’re not on someone’s shopping list, the Prof says we need you. I’m not putting you in a zoo or anything.”

“But… why am I needed? I’m just a fifteen year old kid. I don’t understand.”

“Well, why don’t you come with me and find out? I can get you back here, no problem.”

“But I thought the story says you only go out shopping three times a year. I can’t go away until you’re next shopping trip!”

Bug’s grin returned. “Heh, well, I don’t mind stepping on some boots to get ahead of some touchy folks. There’s a couple of feet I missed the first time, anyway.”

Will then heard himself utter a phrase which ended up changing his life, “OK, I’ll get dressed.”

Will got dressed while Bug impatiently thumped his boot on the floor. Once he was clothed he said, “OK, I guess. Let’s go.”

Bug grunted. “Alright, then, let’s go kid.” Bug then looked around the room muttering, “OK, where is it.” After several minutes he ended up getting on his hands and knees, losing his floppy hat as he crawled under Will’s desk. “This was a lot easier when you had toys in here, kid. This desk just gets in the way.”

“In the way of what?” Will was also slightly alarmed by Bug’s assertion, “This used to be easier.” As Bug continued to mutter to himself, Will asked, “Have you been in my room before?”

Bug turned his head and looked up at Will, “Of course, who do you think returned your action figure? Sheesh, kid, not too swift on the uptake are you? My cousin Frankie was really irked I took it back, too. He hasn’t spoken to me since.”

“That was you? I thought it was Grandpa just playing a joke on me. You’re the one who left the note!”

Bug shuffled uncomfortable, “Yah, but could you do me a favor and not tell anyone about that part? It was kinda against the rules.” He turned back towards Will’s desk and continued muttering, “Where is it?”

“Where is what?”

This time, Bug didn’t stop his search, “The slot. Every store we go to has a slot that takes us back to Great Roll. I just need to… ah-ha! There it is!” Bug pointed to a small crack in the floor, shaped like the coin-slot on an arcade machine.”

“Umm, OK. So does that open a door or something?”

“Door? No, kid, that is the door.” Bug reached into a pocket and pulled out a coin, he tossed it to Will and said, “Here. This’ll make the slot work.” The coin was a penny, it didn’t look unusual at all, but was Will turned it over in his hand it seemed to be more somehow. “That, kid, is our ticket to Great Roll.”

“How does it work, I still don’t see how this penny is going to make me go though that slot.”

Bug shook his head. “You people, you just don’t understand how wonderful pennies are, do you? I may not be your typical gnome, but even I understand pennies are special. Just go put it in the slot and see for yourself.”

Will shrugged and, getting on his own hands and knees, reached out and dropped the penny into the crack in his floor. He was just about to turn back to Bug and say, “What now?” when he felt the world flip upside-down, do a 360 degree spin, turn inside-out, and then change into an unpleasant shade of mauve. When the world turned back to normal Will had a brief moment of weightlessness before he fell to the ground with a thud. Just as he had about recovered his bearings, a weight came crashing down on his back — knocking the wind out of him a second time.

“Sorry,” Bug muttered.

Shoving Bug off his back, Will stood up and took in his surroundings. He found himself in a bowl-shaped valley, surrounded by tall mountains. The sky, which had still been dark in his bedroom, was a brilliant blue dotted with occasional clouds. There were buildings all around him, forming a town or city. And there were people. As Will looked around he saw gnomes staring up at him, a look of horrified shock stamped on their faces. The gnomes looked much like Bug — they were short, had long beards ranging from white to dark black, and work brightly clothes and vests. Unlike Bug, however, the other gnomes work tall, pointed, hats.

Bug got to his feet, waved his arms as if to indicate his surroundings, and said, “Welcome to The Realm, kid.”