Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: December, 2012

A Brief Note

As I will be traveling extensively for the next week and due to my, uh, lack of structure with my itinerary, my access to the internet may be sporadic at best. So don’t expect too much posting here until after the new year. However, you can still follow me on Twitter and suggest places for me to visit.

I will continue to write vignettes for the ISADG challenge and will post them when I can. If you’ve missed any of the previous installments, they are all linked here.

Meanwhile, I hope you all are taking (or planning to take) a break from the internet. Just don’t overdose on the eggnog and Christmas music. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

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A Doomsday Book for Queen Mab – Entry #22

A census taker travels the length and breadth of the British Isles to survey the land’s supernatural inhabitants.

(I’ve decided to do a series of short vignettes inspired by the December 2012 prompts from the International Story a Day Group. Mostly to keep myself regularly writing and posting in this blog. This is based on the December 22 prompt “Solar-Powered Orchid”.)

* * *

Adolphous Turner Bell, who went by the name of Turner, lived in Riding House, at the end of an unmarked lane in the tiny village of Crackpot. Riding House looked more like a cottage with its stone hewn walls covered in ivy, thatched roof, and a neat little gate which fenced in the front yard. The kelpie had been hoping for an offer of tea and biscuits since it was near tea time when they visited Turner, but instead, the elf had insisted on having his interview conducted in the greenhouse behind his actual dwelling.

Turner belonged to the Aegir clan which made it even more curious as to why he was living all the way out in Crackpot. The Aegir elves typically lived in the fashionable districts of cities, working as financial consultants, bankers, or insurance agents. The Aegir loved fashion and style and they all had the money to indulge in those expensive tastes. Most, if not all of them, would not be caught dead in the backwoods of North Yorkshire. Turner, however, wore the uniform of a farmer with overalls and heavy coat. But there was still hints that his stylish instincts were not completely extinguished. The coat he wore, for instance, had shiny brass buttons rather than a functional steel zipper.

“Really, it would be absolutely no trouble at all for us to have the interview back at your house,” the census taker said, even as Turner headed down a trampled path towards the squarish greenhouse. She hurried to catch up, with the kelpie not far behind. “The interview itself won’t take that long. Only a couple of questions. And then we will be out of your hair.”

“Of course, darling. But I would like for you to come to my greenhouse and see my latest acquisitions first,” said Turner, completely ignoring the census taker’s comment. “So very few visitors come out here to Crackpot to see, well, anyone. I’m hoping these will survive the winter so I can take them to the Scarborough Gardening Show in the spring.”

“We really don’t know anything about gardening, Mr. Bell.”

“We’re just census officials,” the kelpie added.

But Turner had already opened the door to the greenhouse and stepped inside. The census taker and the kelpie could only follow.

“Maybe we should humor him this once,” the census taker sighed.

The kelpie cracked his knuckles. “Or perhaps not. We can always tie him up and start the interrogation.”

“Garrick, this is the twenty-first century. Not the Inquisition.”

They went inside and was immediately hit by a wall of hot air that felt like an inferno compared to the early winter atmosphere outside. The combination of the humidity and the dark green flora crammed into every available space made the greenhouse a jungle oasis in the middle of British farmland.

Turner stopped by a bench holding several terracotta pots with colorful blooms. “One of my friends is a botanist. He travels all over the world and brings me specimens all the time. This one here is Corallorhiza maculata. This one’s a Habernaria radiata. And this beauty over here is a Holcoglossum kimballianum. I think it would have a big chance to win first prize. Or at least best of show if it survives the winter. What do you think?”

The census taker rubbed her temples. “English, please? I don’t think I understood any of that.”

“Oh, excuse me. I keep forgetting that not everyone these days is versed in Latin,” said Turner. “Which is a terrible shame, if you ask me. The only second language kids these days know is texting. Which really ruins any understanding of grammar.”

The kelpie frowned. “That’s not relevant to the question, Mr. Bell.”

The elf sniffed disdainfully at the kelpie. “And what do you know? You’re just a kelpie who eats everything indiscriminately.”

The kelpie’s eyes narrowed. “I’ll have you know that I have a very discerning palate.”

“As I was going to tell the lovely Miss Keir, these are solar-powered orchids.”

“They’re plants,” said the census taker flatly. “Aren’t they all solar-powered, by definition?”

At that remark, Turner’s expression turned sly. He gestured for them to follow him further into the greenhouse. “Oh no. Not all of them are solar-powered.”

Past more potted orchids and two orange trees, they stopped at a bench top which was clear of everything except for a couple of gardening tools, a clear glass case containing an ant colony minding its own business, and a pot holding a peculiar orchid with dark brown petals. A strange, thickly sweet scent emanated from it making the census taker’s skin prickle as if she was in the presence of some kind of enchantment or sorcery. She glanced at the kelpie to see if he smelled it. He frowned slightly and shook his head as if trying dispel the effects of the scent.

“This,” Turner said proudly, “is a subspecies of black orchid that my friend got for me from the depths of the Amazon jungle. It is carnivorous.”

“Carnivorous?” the census taker inquired.

“Watch.” Turner took a stick and jabbed it into the ant colony. Some of the surprised ants clung to the stick when he pulled it out. Then, he put the stick next to the orchid. Sensing sweet nectar, the ants crawled off the stick and into the orchid. Only to slip on the waxy petals and drown in the liquid depths to be slowly digested. “Isn’t that fantastic?”

“That’s morbid,” said the kelpie.

“And cruel,” the census taker added. She waved a hand near her nose. “That smell. It has gotten stronger.”

Turner gave her a wide, inhuman smile. “Why, my dear, that’s why this is my prize. As the black orchid eats, it releases a perfume into the air. But this is no ordinary orchid perfume. This perfume is an aphrodisiac that can compel whoever smells it to do what the owner wants. And right now, I want you.”

“Oh no you don’t,” said the kelpie as he loped an arm around the census taker. He jerked her closer to him as the elf lurched forward and tried to make a grab. “Hold your breath, Aileen!”

The census taker was already pinching her nose. She backed away and started running with the kelpie out of the greenhouse.

“I command you to come back!” Turner shouted. “You have to come back! I need a girlfriend!”

They kept running, around Riding House and out the gate. Once back on the lane, they deeply breathed the cold crisp air to clear their lungs.

“No wonder the rest of the Aegir want nothing to do with him,” the census taker said as she took another breath. “That is not how you get a date.”

A Doomsday Book for Queen Mab – Entry #21

A census taker travels the length and breadth of the British Isles to survey the land’s supernatural inhabitants.

(I’ve decided to do a series of short vignettes inspired by the December 2012 prompts from the International Story a Day Group. Mostly to keep myself regularly writing and posting in this blog. This is based on the December 21 prompt “Skyclock”.)

* * *

The kelpie wiggled against the enchanted rope but it wouldn’t give. “This is not my idea of a good time. If I’m going to be tied up, it should have been done by a sexy lady, not some damn sheep with a god complex!”

“You’ve had that done often?” asked the census taker.

“What?”

“Get tied up by sexy ladies?”

He momentarily stopped wiggling to stare at her. “Are you volunteering?”

“I couldn’t possibly. I’m as tied up as you are.”

“Damn.”

The kelpie and the census taker were sitting on a rotting pew along with Farmer Brown, currently unconscious after fainting from the shock of witnessing the evening’s ordeal, and an angry looking ram named Bennie. They were all tied up inside the ruins of what used to be a parish church, just outside of the North Yorkshire town of Crackpot. At the front, where the altar used to be, was Farmer Brown’s prize Reyland ewe Nellie, trussed up like a Christmas goose. She bleated hysterically as a ram with golden fleece grabbed a silver pail from a low table holding all sorts of ritual objects and poured olive oil over her.

“Hey Bennie,” the kelpie suddenly said as a thought came to him. “Why don’t you try chewing through the rope?”

“Don’t you think I haven’t already tried that, mate?” Bennie replied. “This stuff is indestructible. I did not sign up for this when I decided to do this online dating business. I should have stayed in Australia to find a nice ewe from New South Wales. Nellie said nothing about having a psychopathic beau!”

“He is not my beau!” Nellie cried.

The ram with the golden fleece finished pouring the oil and flung the pail violently against the ruined wall. Metal clattered against stone. “Shut up!” He kicked at Nellie, causing her to bleat again. Then he turned to his captives on the rotting pew to pin them with a glittering slit-eyed stare. “Shut up, all of you!”

Farmer Brown moaned, but his eyes didn’t open.

“Oh yeah?” said Bennie. “And what will you do if we don’t?”

“I’ll make you into a hat!”

“He’s bluffing,” said the kelpie. “He doesn’t have the hands to do the knitting.”

“Shut up!” The ram with the golden fleece turned his head towards the low table and one of the objects suddenly flew up and smacked the kelpie on the forehead.

“Ow!”

It bounced down into the census taker’s lap. It was a smartphone in the local football team’s colors. The same one that Farmer Brown had complained that he couldn’t find.

“I am Winston Alistair Thomas Gumpwinkle the Third! Direct descendant of the real ram of the golden fleece who was the son of gods! I have divine blood flowing through my veins, peasants.”

“And here, I thought you had a dye job to cover up all that gray wool,” said Bennie. Then he bleated an “Ow!” as Grumpwinkle levitated a can of beans and dropped it on his head.

The census taker discretely wiggled about.

“What are you doing?” whispered the kelpie.

“I’m going to try to text the emergency service,” she whispered back. “Keep that mad sheep distracted.” She wiggled again and managed to get her hand at an angle so she could grasp Farmer Brown’s phone.

“So I don’t understand,” the kelpie said loudly. “What exactly are you doing? Wouldn’t this be better done in some place like a house? Or even a barn which has a roof? It’s a bit chilly out here being late autumn and all.”

“Did I not tell you to be quiet?” Grumpwinkle turned to the table to look for the next thing he needed. He levitated a jar of something and sprinkled it over Nellie. Nellie began sneezing. “I am preparing my future bride for our bonding ceremony. At midnight, the moonlight will strike just this place and the veil between this world and the next will thin. The powers that be will come and bless our union. And I will become the most powerful being in the universe! Or at least in North Yorkshire.”

“That’s ridiculous. You’re mad!” exclaimed Bennie.

Grumpwinkle sprinkled something else on Nellie. It looked suspiciously like silver glitter. “Mere animals like you would of course mistake genius for madness.”

“It’s one minute until midnight,” the census taker whispered. The moon was edging over the walls of the dilapidated church. Very soon, the full strength moonlight would illuminate the strange symbols that Grumpwinkle had painted in a circular fashion around Nellie. She tried to move her fingers so she could type up another SOS, but she accidentally brushed another icon and something else came up on the screen.

“Are you sure what you’re doing is correct?” the kelpie said in an attempt to stall for more time. “What if you summon an Old One instead that eats you as a snack?”

“You dare question my competence?” Grumpwinkle spat. “With my divine blood, I know everything!”

Bennie shook his head. “Only idiots think they know everything.”

The census taker gave an almost soundless exclamation as she examined the screen of the smartphone more closely. “This is a skyclock!”

“What does a skyclock have anything to do? Shouldn’t you be texting the local police again?” said the kelpie.

“No, look at what it says for the forecast for midnight.”

“Who cares what the forecast would be like at midnight, it’s…wait a minute. I think you’re on to something.”

Grumpwinkle was looking at an alarm clock on the table as he laughed maniacally. “Ten more seconds! Nine…eight…seven…”

“So do you really think the veil between the worlds is going to open up?” Bennie asked the kelpie.

“Probably not.”

Farmer Brown groaned again and mumbled something that sounded like “teleporting feet.”

“…three…two…one!”

And before the effect of the midnight moon could take effect, a breeze swept up and clouds moved in, blocking out all the light.

“Noooooo!”

The kelpie flexed his muscles. The rope around him frayed and popped. “Well, that was entertaining. I think it’s getting late. We should head back to that bed and breakfast and get some shut eye before tomorrow. Don’t we have a busy schedule planned?”

“We would, as soon as you untie me, too,” said the census taker.

“Of course.”

Grumpwinkle was still wailing about his failure when Farmer Brown trussed him up and vowed to never again buy on Ebay “special sheep” that the seller claimed would enhance his herd.

A Doomsday Book for Queen Mab – Entry #20

A census taker travels the length and breadth of the British Isles to survey the land’s supernatural inhabitants.

(I’ve decided to do a series of short vignettes inspired by the December 2012 prompts from the International Story a Day Group. Mostly to keep myself regularly writing and posting in this blog. This is based on the December 20 prompt “Cold Comfort”.)

* * *

The beach bum merman handed the census taker a bowl of steaming soup that he had boiled in an old cauldron on top of the fire. “Breakfast is served. Eat up, lass.”

She took the bowl from him and looked into the dark, murky liquid. It was warm at least. “What is it?”

As Wright handed another bowl to the kelpie, he replied. “My version of miso soup. I learned the recipe from an old Japanese dragon who spent most of his life perfecting it.”

“Are there any sardines or crab in this?”

“No. It’s entirely vegetarian. And organic, I might add.”

While the census taker slowly sipped the soup, the kelpie gulped it down. “This doesn’t taste like miso soup,” said the census taker just as the kelpie made an odd face and muttered something about it being too salty.

“Oh. Well, it’s sourced locally, too.”

“You mean you just took the seaweed from out there,” she said, nodding toward the sea, “and boiled it.”

“This is one hundred percent organic! And local!” Wright’s face turned red as he began shouting. “Are you trying to say I should use some processed crap made by some evil corporation?”

“I never said that. I’m just implying that maybe sometimes it’s not such a great idea to substitute ingredients in a recipe. There’s nothing inherently wrong with your cooking.”

The kelpie shook his head as he placed his bowl to the side. “And sometimes, you just need more cooking lessons.”

Before the merman could respond to that remark, the sound of Edvard Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” erupted from one of the coats drying on the driftwood rack.

The census taker grimaced. “It’s the director.”

“Are you going to answer that?” asked the kelpie. “Personally, I wouldn’t. You’ve just been through a traumatic near drowning. You need time to recover before you talk to anyone.”

“No. I’ll need to take it.” She made to get up, but the kelpie put a hand on her shoulder, keeping her down.

“I’ll get it.” He went over to the rack and plucked the mobile phone from her coat pocket and tossed it to her.

The census taker neatly plucked the ringing phone from the air and answered it. “Hello?” A pause. Then, “No, it didn’t work. No, she didn’t answer any of the questions. We’re not at Loch Ness right now. Where are we?” She looked back up at the kelpie and the merman. “So where are we?”

“A few kilometers from Nairn,” Wright supplied.

“A few kilometers from Nairn,” she repeated back to the director. “How did we end up here? Um, well, we got blasted out here.”

The director squawked loudly, causing the census taker to wince and hold the phone at arm’s length. He ranted so loudly that the kelpie and the merman could clearly hear him cursing their last assignment from here, to the ends of the earth, and beyond. When the rant wound down, the census taker cautiously put the phone back to her ear.

“Uh, sir, what should we do now?” There was a long moment as she listened with a strangely neutral expression. Then she said, “Yes, sir.” And then she disconnected.

“Well, what did the director have to say?” the kelpie asked. “About what to do about the assignment, I mean. We all clearly heard what he thinks about the whole thing.”

“We’re being reassigned,” she replied. “To North Yorkshire.”

“North Yorkshire? North Yorkshire! There’s nothing in North Yorkshire except parks, parks, and more parks. It’s so boring, even the most solitary of fae don’t want to live there.”

“I heard North Yorkshire has Flamingo Land,” said Wright. “I heard they have some rather frightening rides.”

“We’re not going to Flamingo Land,” the census taker replied. “We’ll be visiting the villages where people actually live. As for the former assignment, the director will be giving it to Bjorn.”

“Bjorn? Who’s he?” asked the kelpie. “Does he know a lot of magic?”

“Sort of. He’s impervious to magic.”

“That must be nice, knowing that you could never get enchanted. But still, that’s cold comfort knowing that someone else will be dealing with that witch. We’ve been sent to North Yorkshire! Will we be going to Scarborough, though?”

“No, the director isn’t that kind. He’s sending us to Swaledale to interview sheep,” replied the census taker.

“For the love of Queen Mab, that must be the director’s punishment for us after having failed the assignment.”

“At least you wouldn’t be blasted by more witches,” said the merman. “Here. Have more soup. At least that’s warm.”

Open Thread for Road Trip Suggestions

Yep, I will be wandering around Arizona and New Mexico during the last week before New Year’s. I don’t have a set itinerary so I’d love to hear if anyone has any suggestions be it tourist locations, restaurants, or other quirky destinations in general.

Caveats:
*I have a National Parks Annual Pass which I won’t hesitate to use, but I’m not going to the Grand Canyon.
*I’m also avoiding Phoenix.

A Doomsday Book for Queen Mab – Entry #19

A census taker travels the length and breadth of the British Isles to survey the land’s supernatural inhabitants.

(I’ve decided to do a series of short vignettes inspired by the December 2012 prompts from the International Story a Day Group. Mostly to keep myself regularly writing and posting in this blog. This is based on the December 19 prompt “Saltwater and Sunlight”.)

* * *

The pilings from the pier rose out of the dark water and mist like black, jagged teeth. The pier connected to a crannog, a large wooden cone-shaped dwelling built on top of log supports driven into the peat bottom of the loch. Clouds obscured the moon so it was difficult to make out the crannog as anything but a few angular shadows above the water.

Mr. Jones maneuvered his small tugboat close to the end of the pier and cut the engine. The owner of the boat rental shop nervously sniffed, wiggling his walrus-like mustache as if he scented something unsavory in the air. “I don’t know why you want to come out here in the middle of the night. As far as anyone knows, this place isn’t occupied.”

“We won’t be long,” the census taker assured him. “You will be waiting here, won’t you?”

“You hired me for half an hour,” Jones informed her. “And I don’t go back on my word.”

“Fair enough.” She hurried out from the cockpit of the tugboat out to the prow. With a bit of help from the kelpie, she scrambled up onto the wooden pier. Rutherford, Hank, and Jack were already on the pier. “Well, let’s get to it,” she told the men. “I’m sure this won’t take long. We’ll be back on shore in time for supper.”

The wooden slats of the pier creaked underneath their feet as they walked to the dark crannog. The only other sound was the waves of the loch, lapping against the pilings.

“This is like a horror film,” Jack observed. “I think the sensible thing would be to get back into the boat. We all know what’s going to happen if we go in there.” He stopped to turn around.

Rutherford grabbed him by the collar and dragged him back. “Oh no you don’t. You’re essential for this bit of business.”

“I don’t like the sound of that.”

The wood door to the crannog was shut. The census taker knocked on the door. She knocked again, but there was no answer.

“No one’s home,” said Jack. “Maybe we can come back tomorrow morning.”

Rutherford dragged him back again before he could run to the boat. “Maybe the occupant is busy with something at the moment so he cannot hear the knock,” said the fairy godfather.

“Or he can hear it but physically can’t get to the door because he’s on the loo,” said the kelpie.

Jack frowned. “This place doesn’t look like it has any indoor plumbing.”

“Appearances can be deceiving,” the census taker replied. She tried the bit of iron that served as a doorknob. It turned easily in her hand and the door swung inward, revealing an impenetrable inky interior. “Hello?” she called out. “We’re from the census bureau. We would like for you to answer some questions for the census we’re doing for Queen Mab.”

The sound of something scraping against wood broke through the stillness. Then a figure appeared at the threshold of the crannog. The woman wore a long green gown embroidered with silver ribbon wound around small black gems studded into the fabric. Her hair hung long, past her waist, wavy as water weeds. Her complexion was as pale as a trout’s belly and her eyes as dark as the jewels on her dress.

“I told the previous census taker that I wish to be left alone.” She rasped the words like the lapping of the water. Rutherford’s goose familiar was spooked and waddled quickly to hide behind the fairy godfather.

The census taker unzipped her messenger bag and took out the package that she had retrieved from the pet shop at Westcliff-on-Sea. She held it out toward the woman. “I’ve been told that you would be more cooperative with this.” She then tilted her head toward Jack. “We even brought an interpreter in case you need one.”

“Now wait a minute,” said Jack. “I’m no interpreter. I only know English. Some French. Klingon. And English, of course.”

Everyone else ignored Jack’s comment. The woman grabbed the package out of the census taker’s hands and ripped up the brown paper wrapper and twine. Inside was a leather bound book etched with strange curling runes that gleamed with an inner light in the darkness. She looked back up at the others. “What does it say?” she hissed, revealing needle-like teeth.

Rutherford pushed Jack forward. He squawked and stumbled towards the woman who shoved the book towards him and leaned in close.

“Read it.”

Rattled at the woman’s unnerving gaze, he simply nodded and flipped the book open to the first page. “Wait a minute, this is in English!”

The woman took the book back to look at the page herself and then threw it back to Jack. “No it isn’t, human. It’s in an ancient runic script.”

“But…”

Rutherford nudged him again. “Whatever it looks like to you, you’d better read it.”

“Oh, all right.” Jack sighed and turned back to scrutinize the page where the book had fallen open to when he had caught it. He cleared his throat and then looked at everyone. “Are you sure you want me to read what this says?”

“Yessss.”

He sighed. “Well, here it goes. ‘Chapter 43. Dinner Buffets. A separate room or convenient buffet should be appropriated for refreshments, and to which the dancers may retire; and cakes and biscuits, with wine negus, lemonade, and ices, handed round.’”

“What?” the woman shrieked. “That does not sound like a grimoire.”

Jack glanced back at the cover. “Er, well, no it’s not a grimoire. This is actually Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management. Translated by Eldritch the Rotund. And if you want my opinion, I think this would be very useful for you. Your house probably needs a bit sprucing up.”

But she was in no mood to be critiqued about her household skills as she screamed. “Out, out, out!”

“Wait a minute,” said the census taker. “You still haven’t answered any of the census questions I’ve yet to ask.”

She turned toward the census taker. Dark magic swirled around the woman, reaching out like tentacles to seize the loch itself. Water snaked upward in long black ropes. “Out!”

“Run!” shouted Rutherford as he grabbed Hank with one hand and Jack with another. The waters of the loch popped and bubbled as if it was boiling. The engine of the tugboat roared into life as Jones noticed the abnormal behavior of the loch.

“I still have questions!”

“Now’s not the time for questions,” said the kelpie as he tried to tug the census taker from her position on the pier. “This isn’t the time to…” his words ended in a curse as he automatically grabbed the census taker by the waist. A huge wave towered over them like a lumbering, vengeful giant.

“Out!” the woman shouted again.

And that was the last that the kelpie heard before the wave crashed and swept them into the depths of the loch.

~~~

When the kelpie came back to his senses, he found himself on a rocky, frosted beach, next to a camp fire. He wasn’t wearing his coat, but he was wrapped up in a dry wool blanket. He sat up suddenly to see the dawn sunlight striking the surface of a blue-green body of water. Salt tinged the air. This was definitely not Loch Ness.

He turned his head to see a bearded and bare-chested beach bum wearing a crown of shells sitting on the other side of the camp fire. Instead of legs, he had a long blue-scaled tail, marking him as a merman. Beside the bum was a makeshift rack of driftwood where the kelpie’s coat and other pieces of clothing hung to dry. A few feet away, he saw the census taker also wrapped up in blankets, but she was unconscious.

“Aileen!” He scooted next to her to reassure himself that she was still breathing. Then he turned back to the beach bum and demanded, “Who are you? And where are we?”

“My name is Wright,” said the bum. “And this is my patch of land on the coast of the North Sea. Ye and the lass washed up here a couple of hours ago. It’s too chilly to go swimming, if you ask me. Did you two fall overboard a cruise ship?”

“Something like that,” said the kelpie.

Wright nodded sagely. “Cruise ships are death traps waiting to happen. Oh, and I also wanted to let you know that your mobile rang a while ago. I answered it. Apparently it was your friend, Rutherford. Strange one. I told him about you two and he simply said that you would be fine. He also said that he was taking his godson Jack back to London after all the excitement.”

“It figures that they would bail out on us after all of that,” the kelpie said, mostly to himself. Then to Wright, he asked, “So where exactly is here? Where’s the nearest town? And how far is that from Loch Ness?”

The beach bum raised his eyebrows. “Loch Ness? Well, the closest town is Nairn. And from there, it’s about half an hour drive to Inverness. Swimming would be faster, though.”

“Really? That far? That witch!” The kelpie flopped back on the ground to stare up at the dawn sky. “If we weren’t already water creatures, we’d be dead!”

A Doomsday Book for Queen Mab – Entry #18.3

A census taker travels the length and breadth of the British Isles to survey the land’s supernatural inhabitants.

(I’ve decided to do a series of short vignettes inspired by the December 2012 prompts from the International Story a Day Group. Mostly to keep myself regularly writing and posting in this blog. This is based on the December 18 prompt “The Walrus and the Carpenter, Continued”.)

* * *

“I had no idea that Scotland had a sumo wrestling champion,” said Jack as he stared at the cabinet in the front room of the boat rental shop. Plaques, ribbons, and trophies filled the cabinet almost to bursting. But upon closer inspection, he noticed that all the awards were from competitions held several decades earlier.

A middle-aged woman working nearby, taking measurements of the room, looked up at his comment and said in an amused tone, “Most people don’t. Probably because Ramsay W. Jones was the only sumo wrestler from Scotland at the time. And he isn’t really one to brag.” The woman was thin and red-haired although both of those attributes were mostly disguised by a large green coat and a knitted gray cap. She had introduced herself as Megan, the carpenter for hire, when Jack and the others had arrived on the shores of Loch Ness looking for a boat.

“Well, I don’t really have any trouble envisioning Mr. Jones as a sumo wrestler.”

The owner of the Boat Shoppe, Ramsay W. Jones, was a very large man with a shiny bald head and a grizzled mustache. The majority of his bulk was covered by a dark blue fisherman’s sweater and gray slacks. If one didn’t know any better, he could have very well been just another owner of a small business. But Jack’s fairy godfather, Rutherford, had explained that Mr. Jones was actually a mursu. The census taker, Aileen had further elaborated that a mursu was a particular type of selkie who changed into a walrus. And with Mr. Jones’ human appearance, Jack could very well believe it.

At the moment, the census taker and her assistant stood at the counter on the far side of the room negotiating a rental with Mr. Jones. Rutherford was slouched in a cheap plastic chair, probably napping, with his cowboy hat tilted over to cover his face. His goose familiar, Hank, sat in the crook of his arm eying everything with interest.

“It’s a bit late for a boat trip out on the loch, isn’t it?” said Megan. “It’s almost supper time.”

Jack shrugged. “The others are looking for someone who apparently doesn’t like being visited during the day time. They’ve told me that he lives out on the loch on an old artificial island.”

“A crannog?” The carpenter sounded astonished when she heard the news. “No one lives out in the loch that I know of. There are, of course, a couple of reconstructed crannogs on the loch, but I don’t think they’re finished yet according to the historians and architects working on them.”

“Perhaps it’s one of those historians living out there,” Jack suggested. “Historians do tend to be a little strange what with living in the past all the time and all.”

She shook her head. “I wouldn’t know about any of that. But visitors have come here requesting things far stranger than just renting a boat for a trip across the loch.”

“Oh? What strange things?”

The carpenter gave Jack a look indicating that she thought it was rather obvious. “Come on. This is Loch Ness. Home of the great Nessie.”

Jack frowned. “The Loch Ness Monster? I’ve seen a lot of weird things today, but are you telling me that the Loch Ness Monster is real?”

“I’ve never seen Nessie,” said Megan as she snapped her tape measure closed and shoved it into one of the pockets in her jacket. She took out a pad of paper to jot down some measurements. “But plenty of visitors have claimed to have seen or documented the existence of Nessie.”

“Then it’s a hoax. Or at the very least a myth.” The fact, once he said it aloud, actually made Jake feel a bit better about everything. His world was normally very organized and in its place. Magical and monstrous things were purely in the imagination. The morning and the subsequent hours had been turned completely upside down by the arrival of his fairy godfather, so anything that sounded rational to his ears was something to clutch at, like a safety blanket. He missed normalcy.

Megan gave him an odd smile. “Well, Nessie may very well be a myth. But you will have to be careful, nonetheless, if you’re going out on the loch.”

“Why is that?”

“I’m just a carpenter, but I’ve been out on the loch with some of my brothers to go fishing in previous years. And I’ve heard it too from others who have been on the loch at peculiar times. There’s something very odd about the waters. They say the waters of Loch Ness have a mind of its own. People have seen gases erupt from the waves. Strange reflections from the light. Standing waves. And it is with great risk if you go out there alone. Because you might not come back.”

“That sounds like a scary story parents tell their children so they don’t misbehave. Surely there’s a scientific explanation for all of that.”

“All the scientists say that it’s probably due to the fact that the loch lies on top of a fault line. So you can believe what you like.” She finally glanced over to the counter and nodded towards that direction so that he could follow her gaze. “Looks like your friends have finished negotiating with Ramsay Jones. If you’re going out on the loch tonight, don’t forget your life jacket.”

A Doomsday Book for Queen Mab – Entry #18.2

A census taker travels the length and breadth of the British Isles to survey the land’s supernatural inhabitants.

(I’ve decided to do a series of short vignettes inspired by the December 2012 prompts from the International Story a Day Group. Mostly to keep myself regularly writing and posting in this blog. This is based on the December 12 prompt “Ribbon of Highway”.)

* * *

In the late afternoon sunlight, the naked whitebeams along the A9 flashed orange and wet from a recent rainstorm. Rutherford, the fairy godfather from America, drove the black camper van that he had transformed from the cart that he had originally arrived in. The giant goose, his familiar Hank, had shrunk back to a normal size. The goose was sitting in the back avidly watching a chess match played on a magnetic board between the census taker and Jack, the mortal in a bathrobe and ugly fuzzy pea green slippers. Jack was, not surprisingly, losing.

The kelpie sat up front with Rutherford, attempting to read a map. He peered at it. Turned it around. Folded it in half. Sighed. “You could have conjured up a GPS.”

“I don’t trust those things.”

“Right. Well, I doubt you would need me much as a navigator. It’s easy enough to follow the signs.”

“Signs can sometimes be unreliable.” Rutherford gave him a quick glance. “So what’s your story?”

“My story?”

“You don’t strike me as a census official. Don’t kelpies like to keep to themselves, normally?”

“Normally,” said the kelpie agreeably. “But I was literally roped into the job. I owed Queen Mab a favor.”

“Why do you owe the queen a favor?”

“Oh, the usual,” the kelpie replied breezily. “She saved my life, blah, blah, blah. That’s how these things usually go.” He then peered at Rutherford and assessed his tattered cowboy hat and black duster. “You certainly don’t strike me as a fairy godfather. More like a gunslinger. How’s it like, magicking fancy prom dresses and limo rides for debutantes?”

Rutherford snorted in amusement. “That’s not my area of expertise. My charges aren’t so naive. Most of them are detectives, fire fighters, operatives of one sort or another.”

“So what do you do? Provide them with magic weapons to help them in their jobs?”

Rutherford replied with a non-committal sound.

“Or are you not allowed to talk about it?”

“I could say, but I’d rather not.”

“I see how it is,” said the kelpie as he looked back out the windshield. The road stretched out in front of them like a pale gray ribbon against the landscape. “Well, if you can’t talk about that, what about how you got into the fairy godfather business in the first place? And why on earth you have a magic goose that can change his size at will.”

The edge of Rutherford’s mouth curved upward. “You could say I was born into the business. My grandmother immigrated to New York and did as you had first assumed. She was the fairy godmother to several high society debutantes. But she soon got tired of catering to the spoiled young women. She moved west and married my grandfather who was a fae who had decided to buck tradition and become a rancher. My mother inherited my grandmother’s talents and used them to help set up an orphanage. My father’s family also had a few fairy godmothers, but most were more like minor wish granters.”

“And the goose?”

“You know how there is the goose that lays the golden eggs?”

The kelpie nodded. “Yeah. There are only a few of them around. I heard that Queen Mab has one.”

“There are also geese that lay silver eggs. A troll king living in the Rockies has a flock. My Aunt Mabel, uh, borrowed one. She gave one of the silver eggs to me, probably thinking that I would pawn it off to by a bike or something.”

“But you didn’t.”

Rutherford shook his head. “I was just ten at the time. And not as cynical. I spent two entire weeks incubating the egg with heated blankets. When Hank hatched, he didn’t look any different than any other gosling. I only realized there was something different about him when I saw him grow larger to scare off a neighbor’s dog that was bullying him.”

“That must have been a shock.”

“Oh, not so much, considering what sort of household I grew up in.”

The kelpie then jerked a thumb back towards Jack, the mortal. “So if you’re a fairy godfather for detectives and such, then what about him? If he were simply supposed to be another delivery for us, a courier would have done the same job.”

“True. But bringing him here to help in your success with your next appointment is only part of my purpose. Contrary to my appearance, I also sometimes act as a matchmaker.”

“You? A matchmaker?” The kelpie glanced back to see Jack moan in defeat as the census taker did the final check mate. Hank honked excitedly. “You’re matching the mortal with her?”

At that, Rutherford chuckled. “Stop clenching the armrest like that. Jack has a very ordered personality. He likes his toasters as toasters and tea time at the same time every day. He needs someone to shake up his order occasionally. I have someone in mind who is a bit, shall we say, more flaky.”

“And what about me?”

“What about you?”

“Who would you match me up with?”

Rutherford briefly took his eyes off the road to regard him for an intense moment. A subtle sort of magic curled around the kelpie, sliding past his cheek like a slip of satin ribbon smelling strangely of bergamot and sandalwood. The fairy godfather than broke the spell with a short, “Ha!”

“Well?”

“I don’t think you need my help in that area.”

A Doomsday Book for Queen Mab – Entry #18.1

A census taker travels the length and breadth of the British Isles to survey the land’s supernatural inhabitants.

(I’ve decided to do a series of short vignettes inspired by the December 2012 prompts from the International Story a Day Group. Mostly to keep myself regularly writing and posting in this blog. This is based on the December 11 prompt “Test Not My Resolve, Oh King”.)

* * *

The only indication that there was something not quite so ordinary about Drury Street was the trickle of glamour leaking onto the pavement between the dentist’s office and an interior decorating store. The pedestrian talking on a mobile walked around the census taker and the kelpie and passed the glamour leak without any indication that he had felt anything unusual.

The census taker glanced up from the slip of paper where she had scribbled the address that the census bureau director had told them. “It’s supposed to be here. Did someone just remove it?”

“I have no idea,” replied the kelpie. “But I’m hungry after that train trip. I don’t know how you talked me out of getting a sandwich from that cafe near the station.”

“The prices at that cafe were outrageous. Besides, I’m sure you’ll survive without food for the next hour. First, we have to figure this out.”

The kelpie shrugged and stepped forward. “Well, it’s obviously not here so maybe we should…ah!” With another step, he suddenly vanished into thin air.

“Garrick!” The census taker walked to the spot where she had last seen her assistant. She took another step and felt the harsh grip of magic that had taken the kelpie away. It shoved her forward and she stumbled right into a pocket of space that had not been there earlier. The kelpie was there, staring at a thin green building that existed in the space between two buildings that were actually next to each other in the mortal world. Above the wood door with dark windows were the words “The Wulver King” painted in gold.

“I think this is the place,” said the kelpie. “The building’s magic must have recognized what we are so it revealed itself to us.”

“Definitely a neat trick,” said the census taker with a tone of voice that made it clear that she thought it was rather annoying. “Let’s go in and get that last thing we need for that appointment. This is getting rather tedious. It would be more efficient if they had sent a sorcerer to threaten to turn this guy into a toad if he didn’t answer the census survey.”

“Are there any sorcerers working for the census bureau?”

“Unfortunately, no. The lazy gits tend to prefer spending their time sneaking into gaming conventions if they’re not busy plotting to take over the world.”

“How do you know all of that?”

“My friend Eloisa. She’s a dryad. Who works as a promotional model for a video game company.”

“A booth babe? How do you know a booth babe?”

The census taker shrugged. “We were co-workers once.” She pushed through the door and stepped into a short foyer lined with dark wood. Just beyond was a wide room filled with patrons eating, drinking, playing darts, and watching sports television. It was apparent that the interior of The Wulver King was larger than its facade. She frowned as she looked around. How on earth were they to meet their contact in this crowd?

“Co-workers?” said the kelpie as he followed after her. “Does that mean you worked as a booth babe, too?”

“Promotional model,” she corrected absently as she craned her neck to peer deeper into the pub. “I quit because some idiots were just too grabby. Especially the idiot sorcerers.”

“Uh huh. Well, I can attest to the fact that you’re pretty slippery when you don’t want to be grabbed.” But the kelpie brightened when he spotted the rest of the room. “A pub! We can get food while we wait for our contact!”

A moment later, one of the pub waitresses, a young fae with deer antlers sprouting from her head, arrived to take them to a table next to a window and to take their orders. The census taker simply asked for fish and chips and a pint of the Dark Kraken which the waitress had described as a local Scotch ale done in the Unseelie style. She looked out the window as the kelpie started reciting a long list of dishes he wished to order.

The window did not overlook Drury Street in the mortal world. Instead of modern pavement, cobblestones lined the street. Across the way stood a narrow cottage with Tudor style architecture. A fae woman possessing antlers like their waitress watered the flower boxes hanging outside the first story windows. A cart, drawn by a giant goose, rolled down the street. On the cart sat a figure dressed in a long black duster and a tattered cowboy hat.

The census taker blinked and looked again. They were still there, although the figure had called a halt to the giant goose. He opened the back door of the cart and pulled out a mortal man who appeared rather nondescript except for the fact that he was wearing a bathrobe and a pair of particularly hideous shaggy pea green slippers.

“Oh, and don’t forget the shepherd’s pie!”

The waitress nodded. “Yes, sir. Is that all, sir?”

“I think that will do for a snack,” said the kelpie. When the waitress left, he turned back to the census taker. “What were you looking at?”

She pointed to the window.

“Wow! A giant goose! You don’t suppose we could just pop out there and bag it, do you? Think of the Christmas feast…”

There was a slight commotion at the door to the pub. A minute later, the two people the census taker saw outside arrived in the pub. The man in the cowboy hat and duster was in fact a rough looking fae with coal black eyes and a long ugly scar on his throat. No mortal weapon would have caused that kind of wound.

“We’re in a pub?” said the mortal in the bathrobe. “We’re in a pub! Thank God. I thought you were going to take me to some place awful.”

“Did I say I was going to take you to a horrible place?” The fae’s voice had a very flat accent.

“You certainly looked like you wanted to take me to a horrible place. Especially when I said I hadn’t had tea yet!”

The fae just stared at the mortal man. Then he pointed to the empty seat beside the census taker. “Sit.”

“Er. All right. But I’m only doing it because standing around is awkward.” He turned to the census taker. “Uh, hello. I’m Jack. I really apologize for the intrusion. You’d think a fairy godfather wouldn’t be this rude.”

The census taker felt sorry for the flustered mortal. “It’s all right. I heard you saying that you hadn’t had tea. We’ll order you a pot when the waitress gets back. It will make you feel much better.” She shook his hand. “I’m Aileen. And this is my assistant, Garrick.”

“Assistant?”

“We’re census officials,” she explained.

“Oh!” Jack seemed relieved. “That sounds ordinary enough. I was thinking the day couldn’t get weirder with him popping up in my flat this morning and turning my toaster into katana. I have absolutely no use for a katana except for maybe cutting the cabbages. And I’ve been wondering, is it even legal to own an unregistered katana?”

“Hey!” exclaimed the kelpie. The fae with the duster had taken the seat next to the kelpie without a by your leave. “This is our table! You can’t just barge in here like that.”

The fae turned to the kelpie and they both had a staring contest for a couple of long minutes before he replied, “I’m Rutherford. Your contact, kelpie.”

The kelpie bared his sharp teeth. “Oh? If you are, where’s the package?”

Rutherford gestured towards Jack. “That’s the package.”

A Doomsday Book for Queen Mab – Entry #17

A census taker travels the length and breadth of the British Isles to survey the land’s supernatural inhabitants.

(I’ve decided to do a series of short vignettes inspired by the December 2012 prompts from the International Story a Day Group. Mostly to keep myself regularly writing and posting in this blog. This is based on the December 17 prompt “Sacred Solidarity”.)

* * *

“This is one of those times when I wish Shuck was still tagging along,” said the census taker.

“Now don’t be too hasty in saying that,” the kelpie replied. “It may be more trouble than it’s worth. Besides, the last we saw him, he seemed entirely too happy chasing that fat politician around Parliament Square.”

“Well, if the demon dog was here, we would be out of this station in no time. And not stuck here with nowhere to go.”

The census taker and her assistant had taken the train north. They were in Glasgow to pick up one last package before meeting up with their important appointment, but when their train arrived at Glasgow Central Station, a crowd dressed in green and white stripes was already waiting on the platform. The other passengers debarking at Glasgow had managed to shove their way out of the crowd, but the kelpie and the selkie were still trying to navigate their way through the horde of football fans without using any magic.

“I see something!” the kelpie suddenly said. “Come on!”

“Wait, but…”

The kelpie hooked an arm around hers before she could complete her thought and simply forged through the green and white clad bodies, shouting “Excuse me!” while dragging her along. When they finally popped out the other side of the crowd, near the doors, the census taker took in a gulp of fresh air.

“What was that about?” she finally said when she caught her breath.

“I have no idea,” the kelpie replied. “I’ve never seen so many humans voluntarily packed like that. Like sardines.” His eyes took on an odd sheen. “I wonder if they taste like sardines.”

“Sardines certainly smell better,” the census taker delicately shuddered. “I’m not sure some of those humans know the meaning of personal hygiene.”

A short little man sitting on a large black suitcase next to one of the station struts gave a distinctive chuckle at the census taker’s comment. They turned to look at him in curiosity. He was quite rotund around the middle with a neat beard on his chin. The little man wore a dapper pastel blue suit with a straw boater hat, an outfit that was more appropriate for the spring than the current late fall season. The census taker and the kelpie, for their part, were wearing black coats to keep out the wind.

“Some people don’t wash their clothes because they’re afraid that they’ll wash the luck right out,” said the short little man. “It’s a superstition. Which, of course, these football fans take to like ducks to water. They’re all here because they’ve heard news that their gods will be arriving on the five o’clock train from London.” At his audience’s confused looks, he clarified, “Their gods are the players in their favorite football team.”

“Ah. But who are you?” asked the census taker.

He doffed his hat with a fancy flourish. “McKee at your service. If you’re new in town, and you look like it, I’ll be glad to offer my expertise as a tour guide to Glasgow. Why, I’ve given a tour to Queen Mab herself, back in the day!”

“Queen Mab, huh?” said the kelpie with a skeptical expression on his face. “She doesn’t really strike me as a lady who needs a tour guide anywhere.”

“Besides that, why are you a tour guide?” the census taker added. “Most dwarves aren’t, uh, sociable with other kinds, to put it lightly.”

McKee gave them a slightly strained smile. “Well, we all have to make a living, don’t we? Mining doesn’t pay as it used to.”

“I completely sympathize,” said the census taker. “And thank you for your offer. But we can find our way around. I’m sure you’ll find a lost tourist in need of your services later.”

At that moment, the humans in their green and white regalia started chanting and shouting. They waved their arms, making the crowd look like a rippling green and white beast. Several station security guards were discretely surrounding the football fans, quietly talking on their portable radios.

“Let’s get going,” the census taker said, casting the fans an uneasy glance. “That doesn’t look very stable.”

The kelpie had been glancing out the door while she had said this and then turned back to her. “What? Did you say you wanted a sandwich? That would be easy. I think I saw a cafe down the street. I’m kind of thinking ham and cheese myself.”

McKee laughed again. “You don’t think it’s stable? Why, this is absolutely nothing. You should see what happens when they do a stampede.” At that moment, the football fans let out a mighty cheer as if they were the devout shouting “Amen!” at church. The ruckus ensued as another train entered the station drowned out most of his words.

“I’d rather not,” replied the census taker. This time, she tugged the kelpie toward the door. “Come on, Garrick. Perhaps we’ll get you that sandwich after all.”

“What? Did you say roast beef?” shouted the kelpie over the noise. “While I think that’s a good choice, and I may have to order one of those too, I thought tuna fish was more your speed.”