Fiction Tuesday – Passing Customs

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

There wasn’t much to watch as the train made it’s way toward No Entry. The “train” was more like a subway, passing through rough hewn tunnels carved through the heart of the Fifty Peaks Mountains. The monotony would occasionally be broken when the track burst out into an alpine valley. At these moments Will would look off into the distance and see well kept huts, surrounded by fields of corn or wheat. Then, just as he again grew accustomed to the light of the Sun shining down on his face, the train would plunge once more into the darkness of the tunnels.

Will’s companions passed the trip in near silence, lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of the train car. They perked up when a vendor passed by, offering various snacks and wrapped food for weary travelers. The group chatted for a bit as they munched down a meal of stale ham and cheese sandwiches, then fell back to their quiet dozing.

“We gnomes don’t like to talk when we’re in the tunnels,” a voice jarred Will from his own quiet revery. He shook some awareness back into his head and looked up to see Agent Sills staring at him.

“Huh?”

“We don’t like talking when we’re in the tunnels. It’s genetic, I think. All the gnomes who liked to talk when they were underground didn’t get to breed.”

“Why’s that?”

“The mineshafts falling on their heads kind of discouraged it.”

“Oh.”

Sills shrugged, “It’s not a big deal. We’ll be there soon, anyway. Then the fun begins.”

She accented her last statement with a wicked grin. Remembering her desire to exercise her authority as a Special Agent, Will found it somewhat unnerving.

“Are you expecting trouble when we get off the train?”

Sills sighed. “I can only hope. The border guards tend to be wonderfully obstinate. But seeing as I’m trying to get you out of the mountains, they might not cause me any trouble.”

“So, why are Penny Gnomes so leery of having any non-gnomes in their territory?”

“I really can’t say,” she shrugged. “I suppose it could just be narrative.”

“What does narrative have to do with it?”

“The Realm is governed by Narrative, certain things just have to be. A relatively self-sufficient people who live in, and under, the mountains don’t like outsiders. Since the dwarves are so friendly, I guess we have to go the other way.”

“But, you’re people. You don’t have to be a certain way just because of ‘narrative.’ That doesn’t make any sense!”

The other gnomes, who’d awakened without Will noticing, all burst into laughter. This annoyed him.

“I’m sorry, did I say something funny?”

Bug was the first to reply, “Kid, you’ve seen gnomes walking around wearing hats almost as tall as they are.”

“Yah, so what?”

“Those are their mining clothes. They mine in narrow tunnels, wearing tall pointy hats.”

“And you’ve watched what my father’s doing with Applied Imagination,” Sindy cut in.

“I guess, but…”

“So…” Sill interrupted as she reached out and patted Will’s knee. “What about any of this place makes you think ‘sense?’”

“None of it, I guess.”

“I knew Will was bright,” Nobody crowed. “This, Will, is a land of imagination. Most gnomes believe The Realm is the energy source for daydreams and pondering and ideas. If we made sense, you’re world would be a darker place, indeed.”

“So, Narrative governs how we all act?”

Nobody grinned triumphantly. “Not ‘we,’ Will. Because you are not from The Realm, you are not governed by narrative.”

“Oh boy, yay me.”

“Oh ho, it is something to cheer about” said Nobody as he clapped his hands. “Because you might be able to bring new ideas to us. Isn’t that wonderful?”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“I thought we’d been over that bit, kid,” grumped Bug. “‘Sense’ is pretty much useless in The Realm. The faster you understand that, the better off you’ll be.”

Will raised his hand in protest but before he could speak the train came to an abrupt stop, sending him flying into Sills’ lap.

“Sorry,” the teen muttered.

“You can apologize by getting up,” the squished agent managed to breathe.

“Oh, right, sorry.” Will stood up carefully and helped Sills to her feet.

“Alright,” she said as she straightened her beard. “Let’s move, people, we’ve got to pass customs and hop on the crown express before seven.”

Sindy glanced at her watch, “But that’s only forty-five minutes from now!”

Sills grinned, “I know, this is going to be fun.”

The group retrieved their luggage and made their way over to the train, where they joined the back of an extremely long and slow-moving customs line 1. This cheered their escort up immensely.

“I knew narrative would come though 2.” She turned to the others and waved them out of line, “Let’s go folks, we haven’t got all day.”

The agent began to push her way to the front, bumping into waiting gnomes unnecessarily and declaring, “IBI, official business. Make way.”

She bumped into so many gnomes Will was growing concerned those standing in line might grow angry. Before he could voice his worries, however, he over heard two recently jostled gnomes declare their appreciation for Sills’ actions.

“There goes a gnome who knows how to do it right.”

Shaking his head and remembering Bug’s words about sense, The teen followed his guide all the way to the front of the queue.

“Hey, what’s this?” barked a bored-looking gnome in a bright blue uniform. “Get to the back of the line! You think your special or something?”

Sills held up her badge and nodded. “Actually, yes. Special Agent Sills Masterful, IBI. I’m these escorting gnomes, and one wizard, to The Empty Throne on official business.”

“Well, the gnomes, sure. But what’s the wizard doing here? How’d you get through customs? You’ve got some explaining to do, sir!” The gnome turned his head and called over his shoulder, “Hey Reggie! Come here, we’ve got a tourist!”

The tallest gnome Will had yet seen 3 turned and sauntered over to his fellow agent.

“What’s this now? You shouldn’t be here, you’re gonna have to come with us and answer some questions.”

“Really, that’s not necessary. The wizard is here on official business vital to the war effort. I can’t help it if border security didn’t inform you of his presence. We have a train to catch.”

“Well, Special Agent Masterful. If that’s who you really are. I’m sure we can sort this out in an interview room in fourteen hours or so.”

“No, agents, I’m sorry. We’re going now, Throne’s orders.”

Say something gibberish.

“Why should I say something in gibberish?” replied Will to the voice in his head, causing the two guards to look in his direction.

That’s a good start, but not nearly enough. Say something in gibberish, quick!

“What, like, ‘boughtamitsubishishouldaboughtahonda?’”

Reggie took a step back, holding up his hands protectively. His partner also moved away from his post.

“Is he preparing a spell?”

Sill grinned cheerlessly, “Something like that. I told you we were in a hurry.”

“Right you are, ma’am,” the first agent replied. He accepted Sills’ offered travel papers and stamped them with approval for transit. “Sorry to have delayed you.”

“Don’t let it happen again.” She turn and waved the rest of the group through, flashing a joyous grin and a thumbs up to Will as he passed. As he stepped forward through the checkpoint Reggie waved the teen over to him and whispered.

“Great job, sir. That was the most fun we’ve had in weeks.”

Shaking his head in resignation, Will rejoined the others as they headed down the concourse. Just as he was getting out of ear shot he heard the other agent shout, “Sorry folks, but that Agent’s antics overlapped our scheduled break time. That means we’re off for the rest of the afternoon and you’ll all miss your trains.”

By now he supposed he should have expected it, but Will was still shocked when the queued gnomes broke out into a cheer.


  1. Narrative demands this be so, after all. 
  2. See? 
  3. Four Feet, Nine Inches. That’s a giant for gnomes. 
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