Today’s blog continues my long-neglected satirical fantasy, In The Land of the Penny Gnomes
Will grinned. “Oh yah, that’s right. Grandpa’s stories always said the Penny Gnomes love coffee. But where are you going to get it? I thought Penny Gnomes didn’t make anything except Pennies, pointy hats, and bright colored clothes.”
Bug stopped suddenly, and nearly fell over as Will walked into him. When he regained his balance he turned back and spoke. “Kid, I don’t know where your grandpa got his information, but I can tell you one thing right here and right now. We Penny Gnomes make lots of things, and never insinuate that we don’t know how to make coffee. Ever.”
Bug nodded. “Look we can talk about this in a bit, but I need some coffee in a bad way. There’s an Apollo’s around the corner, I’ll buy but let’s just go get some. OK?”
Will gave Bug cautious thumbs up, which the gnome barely acknowledge the gesture before he shot off into the crowd. As Will walked he noticed more and more gnomes stopping and staring as he passed. Finally, Bug looked up and said, “Ah, here were are. Come on.”
“Why are people staring at me? It looks like they’ve never seen anyone like me before, or something.”
“That’s because they haven’t.”
“Yup, I think you’re the first non-gnome in Great Roll in over a century. And he was only allowed in because he was on trial for passing bad pennies.”
Bug opened the door set under a sign which read, “Apollo’s Coffee” in bright green letters. As he nudged a reluctant Will inside he said, “So what are you having? I just drink my coffee black, but I hear they’ve got a great oregano and basil latte that’s worth checking out.”
Obeying Bug’s not-so-gentle shove, Will slowly entered the shop. The moment he crossed the threshold all sound ceased. Every gnome present stopped and stared at Will as though he were some sort of terrifying art exhibit gone wrong. Will was so uncomfortable he almost decided to hold up his hands and shout, “Boo!” just to break his tension. Before he could act on his impulse, however, his companion shoved him the rest of the way through the door and out of his way. Suddenly unblocked, Bug marched up to a shocked barista.
“I want a large coffee, black, and… hey kid what do you want?”
Will had never had coffee before, and he didn’t like the sound of an oregano and basil latte. As Bug appeared to be an expert he figured truth was the best policy. “I don’t know, I’ve had coffee before.”
The effect this statement had on the gnomes was instantaneous, and even more uncomfortable then the silence which had greeted him when he entered the shop. Before the gnomes had been sitting in stunned silence, after Will’s confession they suddenly started murmuring amongst themselves.
Bug simply shook his head. “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that. OK, so get the kid a light-roast and put some sugar in it. And hurry up, will you, I’m in a rush.” When the barista failed to move Bug snapped his fingers in front of the gnome’s eyes and barked, “Hey! I’ve got pennies to spend and coffee to drink. Get moving, will you?”
The barista came to his senses and began to prepare the order. “Yes sir. Coming right up.” Will noticed, however, the barista kept on glancing in his direction as he poured his coffee. He wasn’t certain he liked the attention he was getting from the gnomes in the shop. Actually, that’s wrong, he was was certain he didn’t like the attention he was drawing to himself, at all.
If Bug was aware of Will’s unease, however, it didn’t show. The barista brought two cups of coffee over to the register and Bug then paid 3 pennies for the order, and neglected to drop anything in the tip jar. When the barista grew sullen at the lack of a tip Bug retorted, “What do you want, you’re brewing me out of house and home with these prices!”
He then motioned Will over to an empty table in the corner of the shop. As they sat the conversation in the began to return to normal. Gnomes were still glancing in his direction, as he and Bug settled in, but at least they’d given up their open staring.
“Now, kid. Before we get to the professor’s why don’t you tell me a bit about these stories your grandfather told you.”
As Bug began to sip his coffee Will shook his head. “There’s not much to tell, really. He started telling me stories about the Penny Gnomes when I was about eight. I guess it started the day after I found a penny where my action figure had been the night before.” Will’s tone took on a slightly accusatory tenor at this point. While the figure in question had been returned, he wasn’t sure he was so happy to be sharing his first cup of coffee with the gnome who had taken it in the first place.
“Kid, if you didn’t want it to be purchased, then you shouldn’t have put it on the display floor. Besides, I gave it back. I want to know what your grandfather said about us, ok?”
Will was sure he didn’t agree with Bug on the nature of action figure theft from children’s rooms, but he decided to drop the point. “Well, like I said it was pretty simple. In grandpa’s stories the Penny Gnomes worked all day at the mint making pennies so they could come to our world and ‘buy’ things in our homes and leave pennies in their place. In the stories the Penny Gnomes love pennies so much they don’t even find time to mine the copper used to make the coins, much less anything else — and that’s why you go on shopping trips to my world.”
Bug shook his head. “I don’t know where you grandfather got his information, kid, but he’s got a lot of the premise wrong. First we love pennies, but take a look around. It’s not like we’re obsessed with them or anything. If we made nothing but hats and clothes our economy would be in shambles. Second, we don’t ‘make’ pennies. We mine them. Up in the Fifty Peaks Mountains we find a special ore, seams of pennies perfectly formed in the depths of the rock. It’s called Penny Ore, and we’re the only one’s who have got it.”
“How one earth can you mine a penny? It’s a round disk with writing all over it!”
“Kid, I don’t make the rules of The Realm. I just know what they are. The pennies are all coiled up in lines and when a miner hits a seam they all come tumbling out.”
Will didn’t know what to make of this information. To fill the pause in the conversation he blew a bit on his coffee and took a sip. His taste buds immediately protested the sudden influx of intense bitter-sweetness. Back home he’d been asking his dad to be allowed to drink coffee for months. Now that he’d actually had some, Will wondered if he didn’t like the idea of coffee more than the reality of it.
Bug grinned. “First time drinking the bean, huh kid?”
“Did you hear that?”
Bug looked around the room. “You mean other than the music which is slowly causing my ear-drums to bleed?”
“Yes. I heard a voice say, ‘Will wondered if he didn’t like the idea of coffee more than the reality of it.’”
You heard me.
“I heard you? Who are you?”
I’m the narrator. It’s probably best if you just ignore me — I’ll turn down the volume a bit if that will make it easier.
“Yes, it would. Thanks. Are you sure I should just ignore you?”
Bug arched his eyebrows. “You OK kid?”
“Because you just got an odd look on your face after claiming you heard a voice and then said, ‘I heard you? Who are you? Yes, it would. Thanks. Are you sure I should just ignore you? OK then.’”
“I was talking to the voice, it said I should just ignore it.”
“Well, that’s probably a good idea then.” Bug gulped down his coffee in one last flourish and then belched. Will wasn’t certain, but he though maybe his eyes had spun in their sockets three times as he slammed the cup back on the table. Grinning he pointed to Will’s once-sipped cup. “You gonna drink that?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Great.” Bug snatched the cup and leaped up from the table. “Sindy has me on one cup a day for some reason, but we can’t let it go to waste, can we.” Bug took another gulp of coffee. This time, Will was certain he saw Bug’s eyes spinning gleefully in their sockets. Bug motioned to the door. “Alright, let’s go see the prof.”