Christian and I had lunch at my older sister's house on Christmas day and after a lovely spread, we all sat around the table picking at the gingerbread house Jo and Darcie had decorated. Afterwards, I was looking at the sorry remains of the house (parts of the roof had been broken off and most of the lolly decorations had been eaten) and I asked Jo 'Do you think this would be covered by their home and contents insurance? Or would it be considered an act of God? I mean, if you believe in God, would he send giants to eat your home?'
Jo wasn't sure so we asked Christian. 'They don't call it an act of God any more.' Christian informed us. 'They call it force majeure.'
'And that means?' I asked.
'Same thing really, it's a force beyond their control.'
'Ah, so do you think the gingerbread family would be covered?'
Christian shook his head. 'No way, the idiots built their house out of gingerbread, they were just asking for someone to come along and eat it.'
And so I had the idea of writing a story about an insurance agent in Fairy Tale Land. Upon getting home from Jo's I had two hours before our friend Tash was coming over and I finished the last sentence as she walked in the door. It's not been edited and it's rather rough but I hope you enjoy it all the same.
(I must apologise for the spacings - it didn't transfer properly from Open Office...)
Once upon a time, in a magical land where fairy tales were real, a place called Fairy Tale Land, there lived a man called Mr Jones.
Mr Jones was not a fairy tale creature - not a troll or a dwarf, a prince or a warlock, but just an ordinary man.
On the first day of the new year he got up in the morning, had toast for breakfast, dressed in a neat gray suit, kissed his wife goodbye and went off to work.
Completely ordinary in every sense.
It was the nature of his work that made Mr Jones the subject of this story; for where he worked was an interesting place indeed.
Mr Jones was an employee of the IAF – the Insurance Agency of Fairy Tale Land. All day long he assessed and processed claims submitted by the magical and not so magical creatures of Fairy Tale Land. As you can well imagine, these sorts of insurance claims are rather different to the claims you or I might submit in our world; there are very few claims for a new washing machine or a new car. The nature of their world changed the nature of their claims but for us to understand these, how about we spend a day with Mr Jones and see what he comes across?
Mr Jones arrived at the office just before 9am. He worked down town on the main street, right opposite a bakery and he enjoyed the smell of the fresh bread that wafted across through his open window. Like insurance agencies in our world, the IAF was a large room separated into small cubicles, with a desk, a phone and a filing cabinet in each one.
Mr Jones' desk was neat and tidy and had a framed photo of Mrs Jones upon it. After hanging his jacket on the hook by the door, Mr Jones sat down and looked at his full 'in tray'. The period after Christmas was always the busiest of the year for the IAF and many claims had already been applied for. His whole day was full of appointments and his first client of the day had just arrived.
Mr Gingerbread knocked at the door to the cubicle and Mr Jones ushered him in. The poor biscuit man looked totally dejected and close to tears. Mr Jones pulled out the appropriate paperwork, along with a notepad and pen.
“What brings you to see me today Mr Gingerbread?”
“Oh, my family had a terrible, terrible holiday Mr Jones!” Mr Gingerbread pulled out a handkerchief and wiped at the tears escaping from his licorice eyes. “On Christmas day itself no less, our house was destroyed!”
“Oh dear” said Mr Jones. “How ever did that happen?”
Between sobs, Mr Gingerbread relayed his story. “The wife and kids and I were outside, building a snowman in the garden before we sat down for lunch. We heard them before we saw them – laughing and joking, full of festive cheer. A whole family...” he broke off, blowing his nose on the hankie.
“Go on” Mr Jones urged, handing the sobbing pastry a fresh tissue.
“Well, as I said, we heard them first. We'd seen the news reports, we know this happens almost every Christmas and so we had a fair idea of what was coming next. The wife and I scarpered across the road with the kids and hid behind some fairy floss bushes and then they came. The giants. And they...they...oh it was terrible! They ate our house!” Mr Gingerbread broke out into fresh howls as he relived the nightmare again.
“I see. Well I'm glad none of your family was hurt Mr Gingerbread; there have been fatalities in the past.” Mr Jones said sympathetically.
He pulled out a manual from his desk drawer and flipped to the appropriate section. “Yes, it is as I recalled, you're in luck Mr Gingerbread. The IAF recently changed the policy regarding these types of claims. It used to be that they considered these sorts of incidents to be 'Acts of God' and wouldn't pay out but since none of the Gods would tell us who was responsible, they decided to start paying for the claims. Your house will be fully rebuilt and in the mean time you can stay at Old Mother Hubbard's Lodging House, all covered by your policy of course.”
“Oh thank you, thank you!” Mr Gingerbread exclaimed. “That's the best news I've had all holidays!”
“Happy to help,” said Mr Jones. “Now, if you just take this paperwork to Nancy at the front desk, she'll get you all sorted. Goodbye.”
Mr Gingerbread shook Mr Jones' hand and left the cubicle, looking much happier than when he walked in.
Ten minutes later, Mr Jones' second applicant arrived, towering in the doorway.
“Ah, Mr Bear! Come on in, what can we do for you today?”
Mr Bear squeezed into the cubicle and into the visitor chair. “We've had a bit of trouble with a break and enter Mr Jones.”
“That's not good! Did they catch who did it?”
Mr Bear nodded. “It was that young scallywag Goldilocks, from down the road. I know I shouldn't blame her, coming from a broken home and all, never being brought up proper and whatnot but she did quite a bit of damage. Baby Bear is quite upset and Mrs Bear is in all a tizz.”
“Understandably,” Mr Jones nodded. “Do you by any chance have the police report with you? We need it to file the claim.”
“It's right here.” Mr Bear handed over some documents he had brought with him. Mr Jones accepted the bundle and looked through them.
“I see, so according to this report the damage was, luckily rather limited. Locks need to be replaced, kitchen chairs were broken and some bed linen was soiled.”
“Yes, we were lucky we came home when we did,” Mr Bear nodded. “Otherwise there's no telling what she may have gotten up to. The police say that she's been known to steal quite expensive items and we had the new DVD player I bought Baby Bear for Christmas sitting right there in the lounge room.”
“Well, this is a very straight forward claim Mr Bear, you won't have any problems. Nancy will write you a cheque to replace these items, just see her on your way out.”
Mr Bear nodded and stood to leave. “I appreciate your help Mr Jones.” He held out his paw for a shake and then squeezed his way out of the door.
Mr Jones had time for a quick coffee before his next visitor. He choked on a sip of coffee when he saw his applicant and tried not to cough too hard as he showed his hairy guest to the chair. A long nose and beady black eyes peeked out from under a bonnet and from beneath the cotton dress a large hairy tail swished backwards and forwards.
“Ah, how can I help you, Mrs...?” Mr Jones managed after his coughing fit passed.
“Grandma Hood,” supplied the rather gruff voice from beneath the bonnet.
“I see...Grandma Hood. So, how can I help you today?”
“Well, I've got health insurance and needed some new glasses and was wondering if they were covered?”
Mr Jones nodded. “Certainly, we have a range of glasses to suit such big eyes as you have.”
Grandma Hood gave a shaky laugh. “Oh, but you'd think they'd see all the better for it, wouldn't you?”
“Indeed. Is there anything else we can help you with?”
Mr Jones' hairy visitor gave a nod. “I was also wondering if I could book in for a scale and clean.”
“For your big teeth?” Mr Jones asked.
Grandma Hood nodded. “I do like to keep them clean...and sharp.”
“I'm sure we can arrange that. If you take this paperwork and wait in the waiting room just outside, my assistant Nancy will be with you in just a moment.”
“Why thank you, kind sir.” Grandma Hood rose and sauntered from the room, her bushy tail wagging behind her.
Once she had left, Mr Jones picked up the phone and rang through to Nancy's extension.
“Nancy dear, do me a favour and get security to apprehend my last client. Can't miss him, he's a wolf dressed as an old lady. And once that's done, call the Fairy Tale Land PD. I think we've found that serial killer who's been knocking off those old ladies and their granddaughters.”
“Certainly Mr Jones.” came Nancy's reply.
“That's a good girl. Now I'm off to lunch. I'll be back in an hour.”
Mr Jones left his cubicle and decided he'd go to the bakery across the road for a bite to eat. On his way out the door he passed 'Grandma Hood' scuffling with three security guards and as he crossed the street he heard distant sirens getting closer. By the time he entered the bakery, police officers were storming into the IAF office.
The Muffin Man stood behind the counter, serving his customers with a smile on his face. Mr Jones was happy this business was doing so well now. Just last year his old premises down on Drury Lane had burnt down during the night and The Muffin Man was sure he'd never recover from his losses. But the payout from his insurance policy had covered the cost of buying this new bakery and due to the more central location, business was booming.
Mr Jones waited his turn and then bought himself an egg and lettuce sandwich which he took outside to a table to eat. As he ate his lunch he saw 'Grandma Hood' taken away in the paddy wagon, exchanged a greeting with The Pied Piper as he led a procession of rats along the main street and gave directions to a rather scary looking lady who was in search of a spindle shop.
After a refreshing cup of coffee and a quick phone call to his wife, Mr Jones was ready to face the rest of his work day.
The afternoon was just as busy as the morning. He had to finish the paperwork regarding the claim made last month by The Pig Brothers. They were trying to claim damages to their houses during a freak storm but upon further investigation it was found that they had not sought council approval to build their houses and also the structural integrity of the dwellings was rather shoddy. This was one claim the IAF would not be paying out on.
After Mr Jones finished with his paperwork, he got himself ready for a very important client. A powerful merchant was coming to see him regarding a specialised service that the IAF offered – K&R. Although Fairy Tale Land was normally a peaceful land, some times bad things happened and the IAF tried to cover all scenarios. The Kidnap and Ransom service was expensive and only the richest and most powerful people could afford the service.
When the merchant arrived, he was visibly upset. “My daughter, Beauty has been taken from me by a horrid beast. He's not made any demands as yet but he refuses to communicate with us. What do we do?”
“First of all, you need to stay calm.” Mr Jones told the merchant. “The IAF is happy to act as negotiators on your behalf. This is our fee,” he showed the merchant a figure on some paperwork. “If you're happy to pay, I shall get you in a meeting with out top negotiator this instant.”
“Anything for my daughter! I shall pay right now.” The merchant snapped his fingers and a servant came into the cubicle carrying a small wooded chest. He opened the lid to show the gold inside.
“Excellent.” Mr Jones said. “If you'll have your servant see Nancy at the front desk, she'll take care of your receipt and I'll have you escorted to conference room four where you'll meet with our negotiator. I wish you all the best of luck with getting your daughter back.”
“Thank you so much.” The merchant said. He nodded and then left the room , his servant following, taking the chest with him.
Mr Jones' last clients of the day were none other than the King and Queen of Fairy Tale Land.
“Your Majesties, how may I be of service this afternoon?” Mr Jones asked, bowing deeply.
“It seems we may have a bit of a problem. A princess asked for shelter during that big storm last week but our son, (you know how he can be!) wanted to find out if she was a real princess or not. He hid a pea in her bed and when she woke up she was black and blue, covered in bruises. Turns out she was a real princess and she's not happy at all. She's talking of suing us!”
“Goodness me! That's not very gracious behaviour after you put her up for the night!” exclaimed Mr Jones.
“My thoughts exactly,” murmured the Queen.
“Well, never fear your Majesties,” Mr Jones assured the royal pair. “Your public liability policy is very extensive and if any judge in the land would decide against you, you wouldn't have to pay a cent.”
The King nodded. “That's good to know Mr Jones. I'm sure it won't come to that, I'll have a talk with her father, and I'm sure we'll get it sorted. My son just fancied her but he's determined to have a 'real' princess. I just wanted to make sure our policy would cover such an incident if need be.”
“Ah, young love, it causes everyone so much grief, does it not!” Mr Jones laughed.
“Indeed it does Mr Jones! Let's just hope her father sees sense. Well, good day to you.”
“You're very welcome Your Majesties.”
After Mr Jones' royal clients had left he finished up the last of his paperwork, turned off the desk lamp and gathered up his briefcase. As he was leaving the office he nodded goodbye to Cinderella, the office cleaner who had just started her shift and helped Nancy carry a box to her car. Then it was a short drive home to a lovely dinner cooked by Mrs Jones and a relaxing evening on the couch watching his favourite television shows.