A Doomsday Book for Queen Mab – Entry #4
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 4 prompt “The Pileup”.)
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“Dr. Keir and Dr. Waterhouse?” The human librarian at the front desk, an older woman dressed in a trendy black blouse and discrete pearl earrings, gave them a doubtful look. “Aren’t you two a little young to have doctorates?”
The census taker gave her a bright smile. “My, what a compliment. I’m actually much older than I look.”
“I was a child genius,” the kelpie said.
The librarian frowned. “I don’t…”
“Please. We must speak with Mr. Hall,” the census taker interrupted. “He is the only one who knows the extent of the archives, yes? It is of utmost importance that we speak to him. Vital scholarship is at stake here.”
“It is true that Mr. Hall is the best expert on the archives,” the librarian conceded. “And that is why he is the director of the Sheffield Archives. But he is a very busy man. And he is on his lunch break right now.”
“Oh, we won’t be long,” the census taker assured her.
The librarian narrowed her eyes. “Perhaps I should check your credentials first.”
The kelpie leaned forward on the desk and casually put a hand on the top of the computer that the librarian was using. Beneath his hands, the electronics gave a small hiccup. “Please do.”
“You said you were lecturers at Cambridge?”
He smiled and nodded. “There should be our pictures on the website.”
After a moment of typing on the keyboard and a couple clicks of the mouse, the librarian stared at her computer screen. “Huh. Well there you two are. I must apologize. You know, there are quite a few people who come to the archives claiming to be one thing and then being another. You have no idea how many times we’ve had to call the authorities when that has happened. There are a lot of valuable documents at the Archives. And we can’t have anything happening to them.”
“Absolutely,” the census taker said agreeably. “I don’t blame you for double checking.”
The librarian called over one of her co-workers to temporarily take over her station and got up to take them further into the archives. They bypassed the rooms filled with documents to head into the back offices. Through one of the doors behind the front desk, was a long beige corridor. The librarian gestured them towards the last door on the left. The plaque in front of the door said “R. A. Hall, Director.” She knocked. There was some mumbling from the other side that she interpreted as permission to open the door.
“Mr. Hall. I hope I have not disturbed you. You have a pair of visitors. Doctors Keir and Waterhouse from Cambridge.”
“Let them in, then,” replied a gruff voice. “I’m just having a ham sandwich and some tea. Have someone bring more tea, will you?”
“Of course, Mr. Hall.” The librarian turned to them and gestured for them to go in. “He seems to be in a good mood. Good luck with your requests.” She left them standing in a large office that would have been spacious had there not been a pileup of boxes on almost every available inch of floor space.
“I would offer you a seat, except as you can see, there isn’t any room.” The bald man sitting on the other side of a large oak desk was so large that the chair beneath him squeaked in protest as he shifted position. He popped the rest of his ham sandwich into his sizable maw and then poured himself a cup of steaming black tea. “So what is this about requests?”
As the kelpie edged closer, he caught the man’s scent. His nostrils flared. This was no man at all. The census taker seemed to realize this the same time that he did because he noticed her hands clenching into fists.
“From our information,” the census taker began without preamble, “a scholar by the name of Edward Underhill was coming here to talk to you about some archive documents. Unfortunately, that was the last that anyone had heard of him.”
“I hope you didn’t end up having him for lunch,” the kelpie could not help add. “It’s a well known fact that dragons are quite fond of gnome kebabs.”
But instead of getting angry, Mr. Hall’s odd eyes glittered in amusement. “My dear boy, I believe you’ve gotten me mixed up with some of the more savage of my race. I’m a wyrm. A book wyrm, if you want to be specific. Because really, would you expect an actual dragon to hole himself up at some place like the Sheffield Archives voluntarily?”
The kelpie shrugged. “Anything’s possible.”
“And so it is.”
“Did you ever see Edward Underhill?” said the census taker, bringing them back to the topic at hand. “Was he ever here?”
Mr. Hall picked up the white porcelain tea cup in a large hand and slowly sipped it before replying. “I recall seeing him once. Strange little fellow. Extremely nervous. Perhaps he thought I was going to eat him. I remember scribbling something on a bit of paper and giving it to one of the librarians to help him. Ah.” This time, Mr. Hall grinned, showing a brief flash of fang. “Yes. Now it’s coming to me. Gnomes have a natural affinity to gardens, of course. So I nudged him in that direction.”