A Doomsday Book for Queen Mab – Entry #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 based on the December 5 prompt “The Devil Is a Railway Car”.)
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“So let me get this straight,” said the census taker. “There’s Chippy, Bippy, Kippy, Flippy, Zippy, Pippy, Dippy. And Maxwell Thor Eldritch Jorgensson the Third. Are you all related?”
The squat gremlin dressed in a black vest and gold parachute pants perched on the railing and blew a smoke ring after puffing on his pipe. Dippy Sneed was only one of the many prolific Sneeds around the country. The most famous Sneeds, as every fae knew, were the Tocton-Sneeds of a certain intelligence agency who made things blow up. At the wrong time. But Dippy was obviously the leader of the troop of gremlins that had crowded out onto the platform at the end of the green decommissioned railway carriage parked at the end of the marshalling yard behind Sheffield Station. The seven gremlins appeared like escapees from a bad eighties movie with gold chains, rolled up denim, leg warmers, sunglasses, feather roach clips, ankle socks, oversized t-shirts, and other assorted pieces of clothing dyed garish neon colors.
Dippy nodded after he blew a second smoke ring which floated over the census taker’s head. “Me and my brothers, yeah. Except for Max. He came to live with us two months ago.”
As the census taker began asking more questions about the gremlins’ living arrangements, the kelpie strolled around to the other side of the railway carriage, carefully bypassing a makeshift front yard littered with grotesque sculptures made of scrap metal. He and the census taker had arrived at the marshalling yard after a long and tedious interview with some gremlins living in a tram. After a lecture on the hazards of rapid transit by the creatures who were still bitter at the recent loss of one of their own under the wheels of their domicile, the census taker and the kelpie had realized that they were running late to their next appointment. Now that they were here, the sun was already well into its descent into the horizon. The cloudless sky already tinging deep purple. The growing shadows giving the sculptures a sinister cast.
A blackbird flapped lazily around the railway carriage and finally landed on the roof to watch the goings on. One of Queen Mab’s minions, the kelpie thought with a slightly sour taste in his mouth. Always watching.
The kelpie found a young man sitting on the platform at the opposite side of the carriage, his back leaning against the iron railing, a guitar propped in his lap. He idly picked a couple notes on the instrument, doodling rather than practicing. The young man still had the lanky build of youth—he still had a couple years yet to fill out. Longish yellow hair brushed the nape of his neck. He wore a black jacket decorated by silver buckles and a pair of jeans ripped at the knees. He glanced up at the kelpie’s approach, revealing shining blue eyes.
“I assume you’re Maxwell,” said the kelpie as he leaned with deceptive casualness on the railing across from the young man.
“It’s Max,” he corrected him in a strange accent that the kelpie could not immediately place. “And who are you?”
“At the moment, a census taker’s assistant.”
“Must be boring work.”
“It has its moments,” the kelpie decided to reply diplomatically. “And what are you doing here? You don’t strike me as the type to hang out voluntarily with gremlins.”
The young man shrugged. “They’re nice enough to give me a roof over my head and meals in exchange for work. Dippy is in charge of the art business. Making sculptures out of scrap metal. I help scavenge metal around the marshalling yard and sometimes to cut the metal into pieces the others can use in their work.”
“Other kids your age would be at school. What about your parents?”
At that, Max laughed. “My stepmother wanted to eat my heart to gain youth. So I ran away from home.”
The kelpie blinked and then said, “I thought people stopped doing that a while ago.”
“Well, don’t you?”
“I always leave the heart and the liver,” the kelpie replied. “Those organs are not to my taste. Trolls, however, are a different story. Which brings me to one curious thing. You smell like a troll. But you don’t look like one.”
Max gave the kelpie a slight smile. “I’m not an English troll. I’m Norwegian.”
“Ah, that explains the accent.”
“That’s what Dippy said when I first met him at the train station.” Max glanced at the position of the sun in the sky and gave one long strum on his guitar. “Well, it’s five more minutes.”
“Five more minutes for what?”
The young troll nodded toward another railway car several meters away. It was an old British Railways Mark 1 carriage painted cream and crimson, although the frequent exposure to the elements in the marshalling yard had the paint peeling. Cracks webbed across darkened windows and strange sweeping dents decorated the metal sides. Otherwise, the railway carriage appeared completely unremarkable among all the other decommissioned railway carriages in the yard.
“It’s possessed,” Max explained. “We get a show every evening about five past five.”
As the minutes ticked down, the census taker finished asking the last question to Dippy and made her way toward the back of the gremlins’ railway carriage. She stopped beside the kelpie and then gave Max a long, considering look. Max blushed to the tips of his ears under the census taker’s scrutiny.
“If you don’t have a home to go back to, Queen Mab would gladly take you in,” she finally said.
“I’m fine,” Max replied. “I really would not want to bother the fae queen.”
A loud metallic bang cut through the air before the census taker could reply to the young troll. The three of them turned turned in time to see the old Mark 1 begin to rattle and shake. More banging sounds could be heard. Black smoke leaked from the windows and something dark and oily began dripping from the undercarriage. The substance had a purpose. It flowed towards the gremlins’ carriage despite the fact that it was on ground that was at a slight upslope from the rest of the marshalling yard. They could hear the gremlins on the other side yelling and scrambling back onto the carriage. Queen Mab’s blackbird cawed an alarm and hopped about the carriage roof in agitation.
“Get on,” said Max. “You can never be too careful.”
The kelpie and the census taker scrambled onto the platform. Max stood and tucked his guitar under one arm as he kept his eye on the rumblings of the possessed Mark 1. The black oil raced eagerly forward only to hit an invisible line ringing the gremlins’ carriage property. At the contact, the line became a visible glowing blue. The ugly metal sculptures, too, glowed with protective magic.
“What is that?” demanded the kelpie. The census taker watched with an open mouth as the oil swirled along the protective line in frustration.
Max didn’t seem particularly concerned when he said, “Dippy says it’s evil. Pure evil collected from the souls of train passengers who stole seats from little old ladies, groped unsuspecting women, and had entirely too loud conversations. But it only gets out of hand when it’s five past five.”