A Doomsday Book for Queen Mab – Entry #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. As the December 3 prompt was not posted before 5 pm UTC -7, this is based on the May 28 prompt on a molasses explosion.)
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“How many people are living here?”
“Just me, myself, and I.”
“Do you own this place or rent it?”
“Own. It’s been in my family since, oh, the sixteenth century. Or the land at any rate. This house was built later. 1854, to be precise.”
The kelpie glanced around the record store as the census taker grilled the owner, a bluecap who could have been mistaken for a human young man–thin and a bit scruffy around the cheeks, a gold hoop in one ear, frayed vest, t-shirt with the logo of an obscure band, skinny jeans, a blue beret—except for the fact that his fingers were a little too long and his eyes placed a little too wide. The bluecap smoked a cigarette which glowed blue every time he puffed on it. A fat gray cat had draped itself on his thin shoulders like a fluffy shawl. It peered at the census taker with slitted eyes but made no noise.
The Bongo Cabana took up the first floor of a thin yellow house in the middle of a long row of houses on Fitzwalter Road in Sheffield. Across the way was a strangely quiet printing factory. They had almost missed the place had the census taker not noticed a tacky garden ornament of a rabbit playing a ukelele placed next to the Bongo Cabana’s front door. The record shop inside had been divided into two. The front room consisted of shelves and racks of CDs. The second room, after going through a doorway strung with a curtain of wood beads, had the vinyl. But in addition to the records, one side of the second room was lined with shelves filled with unusual and tacky objects. And it was here that a till with shiny brass buttons sat on top of a desk. And beside that, had been the bluecap, sitting on a high stool. He and his cat had been reading a Spiderman comic book when the kelpie and the census taker found him.
The kelpie glanced at the piggy banks wearing grass skirts, ugly wooden idols, packages of magic tricks, and superhero action figures. He stopped at the end of the second shelf to the label of one of several jars stacked in a pyramid. Boston Molasses, 1919. He picked up the top jar and sniffed at it. Sweet with the tang of strange magic.
Just as the bluecap finished answering the last census question, the kelpie strode up to him and held out the jar. “What’s this?”
At the kelpie’s presumption, the fat gray cat stretched out a paw and unsheathed its claws in warning.
The bluecap swatted the paw away without any consequence except for a frustrated yowl in his ear. “That’s molasses, all the way from America.”
“I had deduced that. But there’s something strange about it.”
The census taker plucked the jar from the kelpie’s hand to read the label herself. “Nineteen nineteen?”
The bluecap nodded and placed his elbows on the desk to lean on it. “Of course. My great-uncle Erasmus had been an extensive traveler. He was in Boston, Massachusetts the day the molasses factory there exploded. Molasses everywhere. Most of it was disposed of, but Uncle Erasmus managed to smuggle some back to England.”
“Boston was making magic molasses?” said the kelpie.
“No. As far as I know, it had been ordinary molasses before the explosion. From what Uncle Erasmus told the family, he heard that the factory owner had angered a tribe of evil sprites native to America called the Pukwudgie.”
“Related to Puck?” asked the census taker.
“No. Not at all. And from the stories I’ve heard,” and to this, both the bluecap and his cat shuddered, “they are far worse than Puck. They make Puck look like an angel. Anyways, the Pukwudgie were angry and destroyed the molasses factory rather spectacularly. And in the process, the molasses was infused with their magic.”
“So that’s why the magic smells strange,” said the kelpie. He took the jar back from the census taker who furrowed her brow. “You’re selling this?”
“For one quid.”
The kelpie looked at the jar and then mentally counted the rest of the jars on the shelf. There were a total of thirteen. “I’ll take the lot of them,” he announced.
“Are you mad?” the census taker said. “What are you going to do with thirteen jars of molasses that’s infused with dark magic?”
“It would probably go very well on toast.”