A Doomsday Book for Queen Mab – Entry #8
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 8 prompt “The Efficiency Pill”.)
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The curtains were shoved aside, and the morning light streamed into the bedroom. The kelpie groaned, rolled over, and covered his head with a pillow.
“It’s time to wake up, boy! The morning is fast slipping away!”
The kelpie muttered something incomprehensible into the bed.
“If you don’t get up, you’ll miss the train.”
More mumbling which sounded suspiciously like, “Then I’ll take the next train.”
“And more importantly,” the voice said with slow deliberation, “Aileen will eat all the bacon. I only made so much, you know.”
“No she wouldn’t.” The kelpie flung the pillow away and suddenly sat up in bed, leaving the blankets to pool at his waist, revealing a naked upper torso and severe bedhead. He turned to stare at the wizened brownie in a white apron who was standing next to his bed, tapping a feather duster impatiently against her forearm. “I’ve never seen her eat any bacon. Ever.”
“You might not have seen her eat bacon before, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t eat it,” the brownie said. “I made some special bacon this morning since it’s your last day here. Bacon from a wild boar fattened on magic acorns from the Elmet Forest. Aileen tried some and when I left her, she was quite happily eating all she could.”
“That silly seal! She knows any bacon is mine.” He whipped the blankets away and bounded out of bed.
The brownie shrieked and shook her feather duster. “Modesty, my boy!”
The kelpie barred his teeth at her and strode toward the bathroom. “Who cares about modesty when bacon is at stake?” The bathroom door slammed shut and the sound of running water started.
The brownie gave a tsk and a shake of her head before starting to tidy up the guest room. “I’ve never met such a naughty kelpie,” she muttered to herself.
Precisely three minutes later, the kelpie emerged from the bathroom, freshly showered with a towel wrapped around his hips. The brownie had disappeared, but the bed was neatly made and the rest of the guestroom dusted, vacuumed, and polished. He looked around suspiciously for a moment before heading to the saddlebags he had left on a padded chair to rummage around for clothes. Jeans. A black long-sleeved button-down shirt. A pair of plaid socks. And underpants. Perhaps he should put some on today.
While the census taker and her assistant were interviewing the fae residents in Leeds, they had been staying at a flat in a building on the banks of the River Aire owned by Queen Mab. While Mab herself was not there to oversee any of the buildings she possessed in the Mortal World, she had assigned a few of her loyal subjects to take care of them. This particular building was overseen by an old brownie couple whose clan had lived in Leeds for centuries. Mr. Twiddlehurst was the building superintendent and maintenance man. He was a cheerful little man who loved to tinker about in the basement which contained an old furnace that only worked when it felt like it and to help fix any troubles the residents had in their flats. Mrs. Twiddlehurst was more of a housekeeper. She also had a formidable personality—so that whenever she insisted that she would do something, no one dared to contradict her.
After dressing, the kelpie hurried through a short hallway toward an archway next to the dining room. He spotted the census taker immediately, sitting at the small table covered in a bright yellow table cloth in the breakfast nook. She wore a neat white blouse paired with pressed khaki slacks. Her long dark hair was pulled up in its customary bun. But as the light from the nook window struck her just so, the kelpie thought that if her sister looked half as fetching, it was no wonder that some man had stolen her sister’s pelt.
She was busy concentrating on her meal of kippers, toast, and strong black tea. Across from her was another plate. Piled high with potato cakes, poached eggs, grilled tomatoes, sausages, baked beans. And bacon. His nose flared with the scent.
The census taker looked up at his approach. “Good morning, Garrick. I see you’ve deigned to wake up today.”
“Mrs. Twiddlehurst was telling me that you were devouring all the bacon.”
“The bacon is rather tasty,” she said as she put down her fork and picked up her mug of tea. “But I did not eat all of it. How could I? You’d be in a foul mood if you found out it was all gone. And then I’d have in impossible time dragging you down to Cornwall.”
He gave her a grunt in response and sat down across from her at the table. He began eating. Bacon first, of course. He had half expected for the bacon to taste like any other bacon. But no, this bacon had just the right amount of sweet, savory, and greasy flavor. It melted in his mouth, giving his tongue and the roof of his mouth a pleasant tingle. “She said it was from a boar that had eaten magical acorns.”
“Yes. Mrs. Twiddlehurst probably got the special bacon just for you. I think she has developed a sweet spot for you.”
“What? She yells at me all the time.”
“I think that’s her way of showing affection.”
“Right. I bet this bacon is enchanted from those magical acorns. I’m not going to turn into a pig or something after eating this, will I?”
“You should have asked that question before you started stuffing your face. But it’s rather fortunate for us that the only thing it would do is to stimulate the taste buds. It would give a human a severe case of amnesia.”
“Oh, the horror.” They ate in silence for a short moment before he said aloud, “Don’t you think it’s a little creepy?”
“Creepy? You mean the bacon?”
“No. Not the bacon. The whole cleaning thing. Mrs. Twiddlehurst does it so…fast. Even for a brownie. I don’t expect things around here to be cleaned within an inch of their lives while I just have my back turned for a moment.”
“Oh, I asked her about that a couple days ago. She told me that she gets all her energy at her age by the nutritional supplements she takes every morning. She calls them her ‘efficiency pills’.”
As if summoning her with their conversation, the brownie appeared, this time with a teapot instead of a duster in her hands. “Any more tea?”
“Yes, please,” said the census taker.
Mrs. Twiddlehurst refilled her mug. And then refilled the kelpie’s mug even though he didn’t ask for it. As she poured the tea, she was shaking her head and tsking. “You made a mess while digging through your bags for your clothes. I had to go and repack things for you. At least you remembered to put on underpants today.”
The kelpie nearly choked as the brownie walked back into the kitchen. “The nosy busybody! She’s been counting my clothes!”
The census taker raised an eyebrow. “I’m just glad you possess any underpants at all.”