A Doomsday Book for Queen Mab – Entry #2.5
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 from the belated December 2 prompt “Sing Me South”.)
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Rain splattered on the windows, obscuring any view of the scenery as the train hurtled south from Leeds to Sheffield. But at the moment, the kelpie wasn’t trying to look out at the window at all. Instead, he was staring into a notebook computer, propped on his knees. Beside him was a clipboard stuffed with census forms that he was busy transcribing into the machine. The census taker sat across from him, engrossed in drafting up the schedule they would follow for the next two weeks.
Other than the kelpie, the census taker, and a family of three sitting across the aisle, the car was empty. The young parents sat side by side, leaning against each other as they dozed. The young mother was a pretty blonde dressed in a smart red raincoat and carrying a green tote with a teddy bear printed on the side. A closed red umbrella lay in her lap. The father was a large, muscular man wearing a brown waterproof coat and denim trousers. On his head was an olive rain hat with a black sizing band. He snored softly.
The father’s right arm was also draped casually over the handlebar of a stroller. A small child of indeterminate gender in a yellow slicker sat in the stroller, staring at the census taker and the kelpie. The child sucked a green pacifier with great thoughtfulness.
The hum began shortly after the train left Hunslet Station where a grumpy looking middle-aged man in a rumpled blue windbreaker got on and proceeded to attempt to read a soggy newspaper. At first, no one in the car seemed to notice the faint feminine voice except for the child who turned side to side trying to figure out where the sound was coming from. The voice curled in the back of the kelpie’s mind and without him consciously realizing it, he began to hum along.
The addition of the kelpie’s hum strengthened the magic of the hum. The census taker had been sitting tense in her seat as she worked on her own computer, but soon, the furrow on her forehead smoothed out and she began to unconsciously sway with the tempo, occasionally adding her own hum.
A moment later, the young father yawned and stretched. “Mm. I’m fancying a bite to eat. Perhaps a sandwich. Would you like me to get you anything at the canteen, Sarah?” As he said this to his wife, the middle-aged man had folded his newspaper and gotten out of his seat.
The young mother opened her eyes and straightened. “Now that you mention it, I do feel hungry. Perhaps I’ll go with you. I want to see what they have on the menu.”
“Excuse me,” the middle-aged man interrupted. “But do you know where the canteen is?”
“We’re just about to head there,” said the young father. “It’s this way.”
There was a bit of a scuffle as the family of three got their things together before getting up, but within half a minute, they and the middle-aged man had walked across the car to the other side and gone through the door to the car next door which held the train canteen.
Now alone, the kelpie and the census taker suddenly broke out into a song that matched the melody of the hum:
Wi good white bread an farrow-cow milk
He bade her feed me aft,
An ga her a little wee simmer-dale wanny,
To ding me sindle and saft.
Wi good white bread an farrow-cow milk
I wot she fed me nought,
But wi a little wee simmer-dale wanny
She dang me sair an aft:
Gin she had deen as ye her bade,
I woudna tell how she has wrought…. (source)
They both abruptly stopped.
“Why are we singing?” asked the census taker.
The kelpie shrugged. “No idea.”
But her comment was cut off as a line of passengers trooped through their car, heading straight towards the canteen. There were many remarks of “I’m starving, I want a sandwich” or “I hope they have some biscuits” or “I’m fancying some chocolate, the cravings has gotten very bad suddenly.”
The census taker shut her laptop and stuck it in her messenger bag. “What on earth is the matter?”
“Everyone has gotten a case of the munchies?” the kelpie suggested as he put his own computer and the clipboard with the forms into a large leather saddlebag. “Which isn’t such a bad idea. I could go for some crisps right now. Cheese and onion flavored. Although I suppose I wouldn’t turn down sour cream and chive either. But I draw the line with the marmite flavor. That is a crime against fae kind. Let alone human kind.”
“I prefer prawn cocktail flavored crisps,” said the census taker. “They don’t taste much like prawns, but for some reason, they remind me of garish seaside fairs.”
The two of them followed the humans through the car to the canteen which had already filled with the passengers from the other side of the train.
“I don’t even think it is ten o’clock yet,” said the census taker. “And where is that hum coming from?”
As the kelpie stood much taller than the census taker and most of the other passengers, he had a good look at the front of the line and the counter of the canteen. “Ah ha!” he exclaimed, spotting the gray-haired lady at the counter, operating the till and handing out food. The older woman was also visibly humming. As they inched forward in line, he felt the hum’s magic grow stronger. “So that’s why we’ve been singing. We’ve been caught.”
“Caught in what?”
“A siren’s song.”