Tuppence, real name Alice Ann, had never been interested in world changing events. Wars were boring, ecologists nagged, and climatologists only promised more rain. She much preferred to sit in front of her laptop playing online games or shopping while tucking away ready-made meals loaded with calories. In her favourite fashion outlets customers could wander along virtual aisles stocked with trinkets and tasteless T-shirts. As Tuppence's waistline continued to expand, it was inevitable that the selfie posted on Facebook would attract vindictive messages. Going on a diet was out of the question, and it was a lot easier to close her Facebook account. The young woman's self image was formed by the delusion she would be able to wear all those glamorous gowns and skimpy dresses parading on her monitor.
One evening, after an exhausting day at the checkout of the supermarket, Tuppence microwaved a new fat laden delicacy that it was promoting and sat down to surf. She had already seen most of the designer clothes, gaudy dress jewellery and outrageous shoes, so typed in “glitter garters bangles” just to see what would come up.
And something did – “Bodkin's Bazaar”.
The page looked so enticing, with a portal framed by leafy tendrils and overlooked by the slightly sinister face of the Green Man. Hitting “enter” opened the gates of this fantastic market, half antique fair, and half fairyland. The extravagant stalls were laden with lace as fine as cobwebs, bangles and butterfly kites. Glittering kaleidoscopic windmills were being turned by the fluttering wings of fairy attendants offering multicoloured ice cream and marzipan sweets from huge rose petals. Bodkin's Bazaar was a feast for the senses and temptation for the virtual purse.
Tuppence was breathless with excitement. She downloaded the 3-D app the website offered and put on her goggles.
Now firefly lanterns lit the way, illuminating displays of elfin jewellery, gossamer scarves, and bracelets of entwined silver and gold. There was a roundabout with griffins, turtles and unicorns dipping and dancing with no visible signs of support. Tuppence would have been tempted to ride one if there had been something holding them up, but wouldn't have risked it, even in this virtual world. Instead she accepted an ice cream from one of the fairy's petals. She wondered what she would encounter in the fortune teller's tent glowing with astrological symbols. The Bodkin's Bazaar programme no doubt had millions of pre-written predictions for virtual visitors. So she went in.
A willowy man wearing a green robe and a pink turban like a huge bud about to bloom greeted her. Tuppence started to feel disorientated as she sat before his crystal ball. This dimension was changing and no longer seemed so secure. Tempted to pull off the goggles, the eldritch allure of Bodkin's Bazaar held her fast.
'How does anyone pay for all this?' she wondered out loud, not expecting any reply from the CGI manikin. 'There's no checkout.'
The young man spread his hands. 'All we require is your indulgence.'
Oh no! This should not be happening! Interaction on this level was only possible if someone else shared the programme.
Tuppence panicked and attempted to wrench off the 3D goggles.
They would not budge.
'There is no need to be alarmed. Our software is like no other. Just ask me a question. I will answer it.'
There was only one question. 'What is this place? I thought Bodkin's Bazaar was a market?'
'Goodness no. We have no interest in mortal money.'
'So you don't want anything for telling my fortune?'
'Of course not, I will do that with pleasure. Though yours is too significant for a mere crystal ball. Come with me and view what the future has in store for you.' The young man rose like an unbending sapling and beckoned Tuppence to follow him.
Every fibre of her commonsense vibrating against it, she went out into the fortune teller's magical realm, through the avenues of trinkets tinkling in a rising breeze. The allure of Bodkin's Bazaar now felt sinister and far too exotic, even for an Eastern souk. Tuppence became intoxicated by the perfume of strange spices and too soporific to wonder how anyone could have dreamt of such an extraordinary place. It was another dimension.
A chill of fear made her shudder. 'Where are we?'
'Deep in the wood that will never be.'
'It's like fairyland.'
'This is the magical realm being swallowed by a thoughtless, avaricious species.'
Tuppence realised that the fortune teller was as much sp[rite as all the other fairies and elves that were peering from the branches and bracken.
They reached a beautiful tree at the centre of Bodkin's Bazaar, pennants of silk fluttering from its branches and crystal wind chimes spinning amongst its leaves. Huge cushions were placed against the roots of the giant oak. Her guide invited her to sit down, and took his place opposite her.
'Now just close your eyes and focus on all those things you hold most dear.'
The dearest things to Tuppence were, in descending order; food, shopping online, her pet Pomeranian and second hand mini. Family and the occasional boyfriend were also there, but quite low down on the list. Although she lived in the same house, parents and siblings had drifted apart like croutons bobbing on the soup of indifference, only to sink before they could be appreciated.
Unable to stop the wonderful pastries, hamburgers and curries swamping her hungry thoughts, she dozed off.
Tuppence expected to wake up in her armchair, laptop on the coffee table and goggles still over her eyes.
But she woke in Bodkin Bazaar's enchanted wood. The cushions and fortune teller had gone and she was sprawled against the roots of that great tree. The oak was now quite dead, its once glorious crown of leaves shrivelled and a heavily polluted, leaden sky louring down at her through its skeletal branches.
Tuppence pushed herself up. The ground felt oily and air was stifling. The woodland that had surrounded Bodkin's Bazaar was now filled with rotting tree stumps.
Overwhelmed by nausea, she once again tried to wrench off the goggles responsible for allowing her into this nightmarish landscape.
They were no longer there.
Close to tears, Tuppence scrambled through the dead undergrowth slippery with toxic substances and up to the brow of a hill where she looked out over an ugly, blighted landscape. Roads that had once crisscrossed the view were now undermined by repeated inundations, and the woods and fields ravaged by catastrophic storms.
There was no birdsong, no cows and sheep grazing on the grey land or sunlight warming the bleak vista. The sun had long since set on this miserable environment, its rays blocked out by the blanket of pollution.
Then there was that blood chilling sound, like the creaking of the branches in the ancient, dead oak tree. In it was a traumatised voice, laughing - or perhaps crying.
'Who are you?' Tuppence sobbed.
The sound grew into the fury of rushing wind from which words gushed. 'We are the victims of your greed and thoughtlessness! We will recover and grow again, but you will be gone forever.'
Tuppence didn't recognise herself in its accusation. She reckoned herself to be a generous soul, never stinting when it came to fundraising, willing to feed anyone's pets while they were away, or even lend a needy friend her eyeliner. How could she be thought of as so greedy and thoughtless?
'I don't understand?' she wailed.
'Don't you drive a car, eat the flesh of animals, squander water and energy, and use the land as though it was a cesspit?'
Tuppence had to admit to the first three, but the cesspit was going too far. She may have dropped the odd piece of litter - by accident of course - but certainly never defecated in public places.
'But everyone drives and eats hamburgers,' she protested. 'Why do I have to be singled out?'
But the voice trailed off with incoherent words, fading back into the creaking branches of the dead tree.
Tuppence's knees buckled as she felt herself falling.
Suddenly she was awake, sprawled on the floor of her bedroom.
Shaking, trying to not cry out for fear of attracting the attention of others in the house, she climbed back into her armchair.
Then she saw the laptop screen.
It had been infected by a virus.
Gazing out at her was a mask like face. But this was not the V for Vendetta disguise. He had leaves for hair and beard, and vines growing from his grinning mouth.
The Green Man was laughing with a deep, vengeful tone full of loathing for humanity.