A Doomsday Book for Queen Mab – Entry #7
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 7 prompt “The Codpiece Was to Blame”.)
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“That was nice of the professor to give you payment after we rescued his cousin,” said the kelpie as they entered one of the boutique clothing stores on The Headrow, a street lined with neo-baroque buildings. “Too bad you’re going to use that payment to get back your sister’s pelt.”
“Too bad? I’m glad to get rid of it for a good cause,” replied the census taker. “I have no use for a dismembered hand.”
“Think of it as a specialty pickle.”
The Night Angel had black walls festooned with bones and electric lights disguised as melted candles. But most of the floor space was taken up by racks of clothes. Black clothes. A gaggle of four teenaged girls dressed in faux black leather and white pancake makeup was preoccupied by a nearby rack filled with zippered hot pants. At the far side of the room, a man with shaggy brown hair and a studded bomber jacket talked to the pretty proprietress who wore a square cut bodice displaying a prodigious bosom.
“That must be Mistress Magda.”
The census taker glanced at the kelpie. “How can you tell? The professor just said that she owned this shop. And that she had dark curly hair. Which could apply to a lot of people.”
“She looks like a Mistress.” As if sensing his comment, the proprietress reached out to tap the man’s cheek with the handle of a riding crop. The man’s shoulders drooped in acquiescence. “It looks like I’m right.”
The proprietress tucked the riding crop back into her belt and then turned around to take a large gray box off a shelf. She pushed the box across the counter to the man. As the kelpie and the census taker neared, they could hear the man say, “And everyone said that if I got it, I should flaunt it.”
“That may very well be, but you know I’m right, Davy. I am a much better judge of fashion than you are.”
The man sighed. “Yes, Mistress Magda.”
“The changing room is around the corner.”
He took the box under his arm and walked off towards the back of the store where the changing rooms were located. Confident that he would do as she said, the proprietress finally turned back to address the newest arrivals with a close-lipped smile. The pupils of her eyes, as the census taker and her assistant noticed, were not round.
“Hello. How may I help you?” Her eyes first surveyed the census taker, dismissed her, and then lingered on the kelpie who stared back defiantly. Her smile widened, finally showing white teeth. “Perhaps you need my services?”
“I don’t think so,” said the kelpie.
“Everyone says that when they first meet me. But I’m known in particular circles as the Tamer. You’re certainly a wild one, aren’t you?”
“I might be wild, but I do not wish to be tamed.”
The census taker not so subtly poked him in the ribs with her elbow. The kelpie shut up and crossed his arms across his chest. “Mistress Magda, I’ve been told that you have something that you are willing to trade for.”
“Hm. I have many things that I am willing to trade. But only for certain persons. And only for a certain price. Who are you?”
“All you need to know is that I am employed by Queen Mab,” the census taker said. “I am interested in a seal pelt in your possession. And I am willing to trade for it with something that may interest you.”
The proprietress of the Night Angel tapped a long black fingernail on her chin. “Oh? Perhaps I should see first what it is that you think interests me.”
The census taker unzipped her messenger bag and took out a sealed glass container containing a sickly green liquid with a dismembered left hand which sloshed around. As she put the container on the counter, Mistress Magda’s eyes glittered. The tip of her tongue appeared between her lips as she reached out to stroke the jar.
“Is that all of what’s left of him?” Mistress Magda asked.
The census taker shrugged. “That’s all I’ve got.”
She gave a harsh crack of laughter which startled them and the four goth teenagers who were approaching the counter with armfuls of potential purchases. “Well, it’s your lucky day. I would have given you the pelt even if you had only given me a fingernail.” She turned briskly and stretched up to take down another box from the shelf behind her. This box was unmarked and the color of mink. She gave the box to the census taker and then grabbed the jar with the hand.
The census taker opened the box and both she and the kelpie peeked inside.
“Is that it?” he asked.
She reached in to pull a bit of the pelt out. She put her nose close to it and took a deep breath. She looked back up, nodding. “It smells of her.”
But before the kelpie could remark that they should celebrate her latest acquisition with an early lunch, they heard a loud clanking approaching behind them. They saw the four teenagers staring for a long moment before they dropped the clothes in their arms and ran out of the store screaming. Preparing to confront something rather terrible, the census taker and her assistant slowly turned around.
It was the shaggy haired man. But his hair was now covered with a long pink wig. He had changed into a rather uncomfortable looking costume with belts and studs strapped across a bare chest. He wore black vinyl pants, but the pièce de résistance was the codpiece between his legs. Which was in the shape of a cuttlefish.
“Dear God,” said the kelpie. The census taker just covered her eyes.
“It’s too much, isn’t it?” said the man. “The pink wig should probably go.”
“No, no, no!” exclaimed Mistress Magda. “You’re going to be a hit at the concert tonight! Everything is perfect. Everything should stay!”
“As you wish, Mistress. But with your permission, I’d like to change back into something more comfortable. The wig is a bit itchy.”
The proprietress of the Night Angel waved a hand. “Of course, Davy!”
Davy turned to go, his vinyl pants squeaking. The census taker peeked out from between her fingers. The rubber cuttlefish’s arms were waving a good-bye.