A Doomsday Book for Queen Mab – Entry #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. As the December 2 prompt was not posted before 5 pm UTC -7, this is based on the May 28 prompt “Map of the Problematique”.)
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The tiny girl child sat on the kelpie’s shoulder and slapped him upside the head with a tiny bunny slipper. Every time the slipper made a whap, a gold coin fell to the floor only to be gathered up by one of five other children, siblings to the girl, galloping around his feet.
“Horsey, horsey, horsey!”
“I’m not a nice horsey,” the kelpie told the child. “If I wasn’t at work, I’d eat you up, like a strawberry jam biscuit.”
The child seemed to find the the kelpie’s comment extremely funny and shrieked in laughter.
The kelpie grimaced at the piercing sound directed at his ear.
“Well, that’s all the questions,” said the census taker. She and a pleasant faced woman wearing a calico ivy print dress and a white apron walked into the living room from the kitchen. “Thank you so much for your time, Mrs. McKinney.”
“No problem at all!” exclaimed Mrs. McKinney. “I’m just grateful that I had a moment without the children underfoot. Would you and Mr. Waterhouse like to stay a bit longer for tea?”
Before the kelpie could shout out a loud no, the census taker replied, “We would love to, Mrs. McKinney. But I’m afraid duty calls. We have several other households to visit before the end of the day.”
“Well dear, if you must go, please take one of these scones with you.” The woman went back into the kitchen to retrieve a tray of the pastries. The census taker thanked her and took one of the scones. Eyes gleaming with the prospect of free food, the kelpie plucked the girl child from his shoulder by the back of her shirt and placed her on the floor before striding forward to take one of the scones himself.
“These are delicious, Mrs. McKinney,” he said around a mouthful.
The woman beamed. “I’m glad you think so. It’s my secret recipe.”
The census taker paused before she was about to take a bite. “Secret recipe?”
“They’re enchanted for luck and fortune.”
“Oh.” The census taker relaxed her shoulders. She had been suspecting something not as beneficent. “Thank you very much, Mrs. McKinney.” She and the kelpie moved toward the door, with the girl child still following, hitting her slipper against the kelpie’s leg. When they reached the threshold, her mother pulled her back. The kelpie accidentally kicked at one of the coins on the floor and it bounced down the front steps.
Clink, clink, clink.
The other children and Mrs. McKinney gathered around the door. “Say good-bye, children.”
“Good-bye, census lady!” the children yelled.
“Bye-bye, horsey!” added the youngest girl child.
The kelpie scarfed down the rest of his scone as they walked past the front yard and turned out onto a residential street lined with ivy-covered stone walls. It was a bright sunny day with barely a breeze. It was warm enough that they didn’t have to wear jackets. The census taker had tucked her clipboard underneath her left arm and was nibbling at her scone as they headed towards the next house.
“No more leprechauns,” said the kelpie. “They breed like rabbits. And if another kid bangs on my head, I’m going to have irreparable brain damage.” He shook his head at the comment, only to dislodge a couple more coins which tinkled on the sidewalk.
“It’s your lucky afternoon,” she replied. “Mrs. McKinney told me that her neighbor is a professor. Never married.”
“A professor, huh? I’ve heard they taste a bit like mutton stewed in beer.”
She turned to look at him. “Beer?”
“I’ve never eaten a professor. This is second hand from some of my friends. It’s probably from all of those wild faculty meetings they have at the local pubs.”
An ivy-covered wrought iron gate stood as the entrance to the next residential property. Once they stepped inside, they were greeted with a looming country house built in the Tudor Revival style with a steeply pitched roof and half-timbered walls. But before the census taker could raise her hand to the door knocker, the front door was jerked open. She and the kelpie had to look down to find the house’s inhabitant—a wizened old man, stout and red-cheeked, wearing a shiny purple robe and a matching pointy hat. His ears, the kelpie noted, were also rather pointy.
“There you are,” he said. “I’ve been expecting you for the past day.”
“Expecting us?” said the census taker, perplexed.
“Here. We’ll get this out of the way first.” The old man shoved some papers into the census taker’s hands. They were census forms, already filled out.
She hastily stuck them in her clipboard and glanced at the first line. “Uh, Professor Underhill? Thank you very much for filling this out ahead of time. We really appreciate…”
The professor waved a hand. “My magic mirror warned me ahead of time. But your visit, however, is fortuitous. Come along.”
Bewildered, the census taker and her assistant trailed behind the professor as they went down the front hallway lined with portraits of various people who looked quite similar to the professor himself. His relatives, no doubt. At the end of the hallway was a large oak door which opened into a messy study crammed with papers, books, and various knick-knacks. A tiny corgi snoozed on two issues of the Journal of Archeology underneath a wooden three-legged stool. At their entrance, the dog looked up. It barked at the kelpie. In reply, the kelpie barred his teeth, making the corgi whine and roll over on his belly to show submission.
The professor ignored the byplay and instead gestured energetically towards the opposite side of the wall where he had pinned a gigantic map of the country. Several pins, post-it notes, and other assorted items were stuck to the map, but what caught the eye was a red circle drawn around the city of Sheffield.
“I am researching the history of my family. I have gathered information of all the Underhills around the country. Except for this area. My cousin Edward is helping me, but last week, I lost all contact with him. Since I’m sure you’ll be heading there for your census duties, you can check to see what has happened to him and if there’s any information about the Underhill family there, too.”
“Professor, if you need someone to find a missing person, you may need to contact the proper authorities,” she said. “We’re just here to collect information.”
“Oh no, I’m sure you’ll be the best person to help,” Professor Underhill replied. “The human authorities would be useless. And the fae authorities tell me there are better things to do than to look for a gnome who is probably sleeping off a hangover in some gutter somewhere. But I know Edward. He isn’t like that.”
“But we can’t…”
The professor’s expression turned sly. “I have information about your sister’s pelt.”
At that news, the census taker paled.