“Testing, testing, one two”, Maria Jaczinski repeated, as her sound man sought to extract her voice from the pounding of rain on the temple roof and the hubbup of the other news crews packed into the designated press area. She brushed back her mid-length, dirty-blonde hair, then casually placed a hand on her jean-clad hip. Initially she had rocked up with her pale pink shirt tied around her midrift, so as to exhibit her toned navel, but the solemn air of the temple and its priests had made her think the better of it, and said shirt was now respectfully untied. She didn’t want to end up in the same predicament as the girls she had come to report on.
Maria was Polish, but had worked in the UK for the past ten years as a journalist and social media personality, and was presently a frontline reporter for the independent and irreverent internet channel Nowhere News. Though 41 years old, she could easily pass for 30. Her shapely figure and slavic cheekbones had built her a solid following among male viewers, but she had also won wider respect for her incisive and insightful journalism, proving that booty and brains could indeed coexist.
Despite her successes, Maria had for some years been splashing against the sides of the small pond she occupied, always hopeful that her next scoop would launch her into the news-media premier league. When a mysterious, well-spoken woman had phoned her yesterday, with a tip-off that the arrested backpackers would be facing possibly cruel and certainly unusual punishment, Maria had jumped on the first plane. Alas, from the throng of reporters that had converged on the temple, it was evident that many others had been alerted too.
That twat from the BBC has got a much better position from me, Maria fretted to herself. Damn those goons who held us up in Customs!
Through her earpiece, Maria heard the studio newsreader preparing to hand over to her. She swished back her hair once more, and fixed the camera with her light hazel eyes. “Well hello dere folks! You join me live at de Temple of Wan-Pie-Goo, high in de beautiful moutains of de Kingdom of Gunjor”, Maria announced in her strong but engaging accent. “It was here dat de ‘striptease four’ were arrested five days ago. Today dose girls return to atone for deir misdeeds. Dis promises to be a fascinating demonstration of de justice system of dis secluded part of de…” Maria paused as the latest update came through her earpiece. “…and I have word dat de prisoners arrive right now!”
Sure enough, a prison van heaved its way up the final stretch of the mountain track and juddered to a stop outside the temple steps.
“Now remember Ladies – tip-top behaviour”, Fairfax advised as the detainees prepared to disembark. “With a bit of luck we can get this ugly matter cleared up in time for afternoon tea.”
“Don’t do or say anything unless instructed to”, warned Chung.
“Errm, Tessa”, Imogen whispered. “Ye still got a wee spot of mud behind yer ear.”
Tessa thanked Imogen with a scowl for her troubles, and scratched away the dried mud.
Flanked by guards, the prisoners emerged from the van into a gauntlet of flashbulbs and shouted questions.
“Hello ladies! Do you know what punishment you are facing today?”
“How are they treating you in prison?”
“Miss Montague-Fawkes, what do you have to say for the embarrassment you have caused your father?”
“Hi girls! Fancy doing a shoot for Bloke magazine? Wearing nothing but backpacks?”
“Hello dere, ladies!”, Maria called. “So why did you remove your clothing in de temple?”
The girls didn’t get an opportunity to answer her question, but the answer would have been different for each of them. For Imogen, the reason had been to commune with the restless carnal spirits of the mountainside; for Sarah, to liberate the female form against oppressive societal norms; for Laura, an experiment into the effects of the high altitude on the human physiology. In Tessa’s case, it had been a few too many measures of a bright green liqueur in a local bar the night before.
The prisoners left the media scrum behind them and traversed the temple floor, with the suit-clad Chung leading the way. The temple was hewn entirely from a light greenish rock that prevailed in the region. A vast roof, supported by huge pillars, provided much-welcome shelter against the elements. Beneath this, the temple was mostly open-plan, though interspersed with smaller internal buildings. Embedded in the floor were numerous fountains and pools. While some of these, as one might expect, gushed with crystal-clear water, others flowed with less orthodox substances. For example, one pool bubbled with thick brown mud, while one fountain sprayed a bright yellow substance that bore the distinct smell of custard.
Some of the decorations were similarly questionable – a statue showed two women engaged in some kind of a brawl, each thrusting a dessert into the other’s face. A mural depicted some kind of ritual in which a young maiden was seated in a cubicle, with a substance being dropped on her from a compartment above. There were also various contraptions and devices assembled throughout the temple, extremely intricate in their construction, though dubious in their purpose.
Fairfax issued a parting plea for good behaviour and went off to smoke his pipe on a bench. Chung ushered the prisoners through an archway into one of the enclosed buildings, down a passageway and into what appeared to be some kind of changing room. Four white robes hung on hooks. “The robes of purification”, Chung gestured.
Tessa passed the material between her fingers. “More cheap clothing”, she grumbled.
“You are to wear no other clothing other than your underwear, and you must go barefoot too”, Chung instructed them. “Be ready in five minutes. Now, I must go and make some… preparations of my own.”
The four girls took off their prison uniforms and put on the robes, which were were all the same standard size. Tessa’s proved overly tight and short, while Imogen was at risk of tripping over hers. The material was extremely fine, and wouldn’t offer much protection against anything wet or sticky that might come the girls’ way.
“Typical, they chastise us for taking our tops off, then they want us to wear next to nothing”, complained Sarah.
Chung returned shortly and led the four back into the open, delivering them to a grand square at the very heart of the temple. At the opposite end of the square, three priests, clad in green robes, sat on thrones. Chung took a bow and prompted the prisoners to do the same.
The priest sat on the central throne picked up a piece of paper. “Lau-ra John-son”, he read, mauling the English name in his mouth as if it were a sour piece of fruit.
“That’s you!”, hissed Chung, pushing Laura into the centre of the square. The other three breathed a collective sigh of relief, though they knew their reprieve would only be temporary. Laura shuffled her feet and fiddled with her glasses as she stood in the priests’ glare.
The head priest barked a few sentences and his co-clerics nodded in agreement. Many though Laura’s mental abilities were, inferring obscure Eastern languages was not among them. However, Chung was on hand to provide a translation.
“The priests have decided your fate”, the Asian revealed with a satisfied smile, “Laura, you love to be bombarded with facts and figures; now you must face the Pie Pod of Penitence. Come with me!”
Chung led to Laura to another square, situated in the corner of the temple. In the centre of the square was a stone plinth, from the top of which protruded two posts. Chung instructed Laura to stand on the plinth, between said posts. She then proceeded to tie Laura’s wrists and ankles to the posts, such that the curvy black girl was stretched between them in an X shape.
The lenses of the world’s press trained on the unfolding spectacle. “Dis is science genius Laura Johnson”, Maria commentated to her viewers. “She’s due to start a PhD at de Large Hadron Collier… but right now she has collisions of a different kind to worry about!”
Surrounding the plinth were dozens of stone catapults, arranged in several concentric rings so as to point towards the plinth. On the end of each catapult’s arm sat a Tiswas-style pie, composed of a layer of coloured frosting with a generous coating a creamy foam on top.
They appear to be levers of some sort, Laura deduced, as she perused the arrangement before her. If the catch is released, then the spring-loaded mechanism will apply a large moment about the fulcrum. This will give the pie sufficient momentum so as to be projected into the air.
Chung rechecked the tightness of her knots and then jumped down from the plinth. “Enjoy yourself sucker!”
The pie will then follow an approximately parabolic trajectory, until it comes into contact with the ground… or another object, Laura’s machinations continued. Interesting… the levers that are further away look like they’re set to project their pies further. In fact, it looks as if all the pies will converge on a single focal point. Which appears to be… Laura rattled off the calculation in her head. “…where I’m standing!”, she cried.
“And FIRE!!”, shouted Chung.
TWANG! A catapult directly behind Laura was the first to deploy. The pie flew through the air and, with a resounding splut, scored a perfect hit on the ebony girl’s fullsome ass.
“Oooo!”, moaned Laura, swooning slightly against the ropes as she felt the cool cream seep through the thin robes and into her panties. The foil pie tin slipped to the floor, revealing a hefty covering of white cream and light blue frosting covering her behind.
TWANG! A catapult in front of Laura fired. The pie arced through the air and smacked into her left breast, spurting cream and orange frosting across her front.
“Oh my!”, Laura cried, as she watched another catapult launch. Her eyes widened as she computed the destination of this projectile. Sure enough, the pie socked her square in the face, blasting her pretty features with cream and green frosting, and coating her glasses. In quick succession, a yellow pie from the left and a red pie from the right sandwiched her head. Then a purple pie from behind came crashing down on the top of her head, completing the ruination of her braided hair.
The barrage intensified. Now blinded by pie, Laura tried to judge where each missile would land from the location of each respective twang. She screamed and jolted against her restraints as the pies pelted her all over – on her front, back and legs, in her hair and at her feet. She could feel the cool creaminess of each one through the fragile fabric of the robe. The dark-skinned girl soon turned a dazzling, creamy white, interspersed with pastel shades. At one point her glasses fell off, leaving two circles of relatively untouched skin and granting Laura some vision. This proved to be short-lived, as another pie slammed into her face.
Meanwhile, Imogen, Sarah and Tessa stood watching in disbelief. “Shit, is that gonna happen to us?”, shuddered Imogen. Tessa, in particular, was deeply worried, remembering what Chung had told her during yesterday’s encounter: “I’m going to make sure you get a worse punishment than the other three girls combined“. In the journalists’ enclosure, Maria and her fellow commentators also watched with a muted awe.
The ammunition became depleted, and the onslaught of pies dwindled to one or two laggards. The catapult directly in front of Laura was one of the last to fire, its payload exploding right in her crotch. Laura let out a deep moan and slumped against the restraining ropes. The cream and frosting continued to slide off her body and plop to the base of the plinth.
“Well folks, dat was quite some pieing! And quite some justice!”, Maria commentated. “Should we instigate dis kind of sentence for petty offenders in Britain? It would certainly bring some life to our town centres! As always, tweet your views @mariajaczinski.”
A hand wiped Laura’s eyes and she discovered that Chung had clambered back up beside her. In a rare display of kindliness, Chung picked up Laura’s glasses, wiped them clean and replaced them on her face. Laura was left breathless by the bombardment, but as she returned to her senses, a smile began to rise under all the cream. Her calculations had been correct.
The priests came to stand at the edge of the array of catapults. One of them raised a hand and uttered a few incomprehensible sentences.
“You are duly pardoned”, Chung told Laura, as she began to untie the restraints. With a slight grudging tone she added, “You are now at liberty. Free.”
“Wooo!”, Laura pumped her fist.
“But that doesn’t give you licence to misbehave here”, said Chung. “This is a holy place, remem…”
TWANG! Unnoticed by everyone, one catapult had failed to fire… until now. The tardy tart swooped in from the left, making a beeline towards Chung. A gasp (not entirely negative in tone) went up from the spectators as the perilous pie homed in on the smart, suave, suit-clad assistant, swooping straight for the petite Asian’s face.
Chung didn’t duck. She didn’t even flinch. Instead she turned to face the projectile, as if daring it to strike her. When it got to within half a foot of her, the pie exploded in mid-air. Globs of creams and pink frosting sprayed out in all directions, some of it onto Laura.
Initially, everyone assumed the missile must have slammed into in Chung’s face, but when the mist of cream cleared, there was no evidence that the pie had gone anywhere near her. Her face was clean, her suit pristine, her business-like hairstyle unsullied. It was as if every particle of pie had somehow veered away from her. Chung nonchalantly returned to untying Laura.
A murmur of disbelief rippled through the gaggle of journalists. Fairfax removed his pipe from his mouth and examined it, wondering exactly what he was smoking.
“Did you see that?”, Sarah nudged Tessa and Imogen. “What the fuck happened there?”
“I don’t know”, replied Tessa. “But something… something similar happened yesterday, when she threw me out in the mud. There was no mud on her legs or shoes or anything.”
“It’s like the lass has got some kinda invisible shield against mess”, remarked Imogen. “But that cannae be possible.”
Maria was also scratching her head. Had it been an optical illusion – some flukey trick of perspective? Or had she just witnessed an extraordinary event – a modern-day miracle? And who was this enigmatic Asian woman? Although Maria had only heard Chung’s voice from afar, it sounded awfully like the telephone tip-off that had led her here.
“Did you get dat?”, she hissed to her cameraman, who nodded.
Maria sensed she had an even bigger story on her hands than she had first thought. But if she was going to scoop it ahead of all the other journalists, she’d have to work fast. And she’d need to break some rules.
Maria watched apprehensively as a very creamy Laura squelched her way down from the podium. The penalties for upsetting the priests were great, but so were the rewards for uncovering this story. And Maria was determined to uncover it, no matter how messy it might get her.