A Doomsday Book for Queen Mab – Entry #9
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 9 prompt “Young Man’s Grudge”.)
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The kelpie’s dream of dancing custard tarts came to an abrupt end when someone’s mobile started playing “O Fortuna” from the Carmina Burana. He opened his eyes to find that he had fallen asleep on the train. He had been leaning against the window which was not showing much of any scenery since it was raining again.
“It’s just from the Beast,” said the census taker when she checked her phone.
He rubbed his eyes and scowled. “Who the hell is the Beast? And why do you have that weird expression on your face?”
“His entire title is the Beast of Bodmin Moor. It’s been passed down his family for generations. But everyone just calls him the Beast. He’s my sister’s, um, fiancé.”
“Fiancé? He isn’t the one who stole her pelt in the first place, isn’t he?”
“Oh no! The Beast wouldn’t do such a thing. He’s as tame as a house cat. He was unfortunately away on an overseas business trip when everything happened. But he’s back now. He just sent me a text message saying that he will meet us at Truro Station to drive us the rest of the way. I just found it a little strange since we had originally planned on taking a taxi.”
“Well, I suppose that’s fine then,” said the kelpie. “Lucky for you our next assignment is also in Cornwall so you can kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. Anyways, who stole your sister’s pelt and sold it off in the first place? You never did say.”
“I didn’t?” The census taker shoved her phone back in her pocket as the train slowed down. Through the wet windows, they could see a sign indicating that they were entering Redditch Station. “I thought I did. Well, it was a local fisherman who caught her changing.”
“And let me guess, the silly human thought stealing her pelt would make her magically agree to marry him even though she was already engaged to another.”
The census taker shook her head sadly. “That is the curse of the selkie. One of the true things about us. My sister made the mistake of thinking that no human in this modern day would even think of doing such a thing, let alone believe all the fairy tales. So she wasn’t careful.”
As they talked about the situation, the train stopped and the doors opened. A little old lady in a light brown raincoat stepped in and closed her large black umbrella. As there was no one in the railway carriage except the census taker and her assistant who had taken up seats at the far end, the little old lady took the nearest seat. Once settled, she opened her very large red purse and took out a ball of mauve yarn, a partially done sock, and a pair of knitting needles gleaming green under the artificial light in the carriage. Just before the doors closed, a lean figure in black rushed in, boots squeaking. When the doors finally closed and the train started up again, the figure remained standing, one hand grasping a metal support pole.
The scent of strong magic soon reached the census taker and the kelpie. They abruptly stopped talking about her sister and the troublesome fisherman and turned to observe the two new passengers. The young man stood staring at the little old lady who continued to knit, seemingly lost in her own world.
As she did not appear to notice him, the young man finally spoke. His voice was barely restrained from emotion. “It all ends here, Mrs. Nornwell. You have nowhere else to run.”
The old lady finally looked up and peered at the young man. “Why on earth should I run?”
“You keep knitting as if there’s no care in the world. But with each knot and each snip, you’ve made my life a living hell. It was you who killed my parents. You who caused my sister to fall so sick she now lives in the hospital. You who got my best friend arrested, my dog run over by a truck, and my neighbor accidentally carted off to an insane asylum. You manipulated my girlfriend so she would leave me and got me fired from my part-time job. I’m sure you got me robbed last month. And to top it off, you made my school blow up yesterday so now I can’t take my A-levels on time!”
Instead of denying all the accusations, Mrs. Nornwell just smiled. “Someone in the world needs bad things to happen to them.”
“What the hell did I do to deserve all of it?”
“Oh, you didn’t do anything. It’s destiny. Fate.”
“Screw fate. I’m not going to have some old woman dictate my life as she sees fit. I’m in charge of my own destiny.” With those words, the young man pushed aside his coat to reveal a long, shining sword strapped to his side. Now revealed, the magic flooded the railway car with its sharp, acrid scent.
The kelpie made an exclamation and was about to stand up when the census taker grabbed his wrist and dug her nails in, forcing him to sit back down.
“When it comes to someone else’s Fate, we cannot interfere,” she told him harshly.
A muscle twitched in the kelpie’s jaw, but he remained in his seat. “A human should not be in possession of that.”
Meanwhile, the old lady seemed not to notice them at all. Instead, she gave the young man a rather horrible, toothy grin. “No human can defy Fate. And you are no exception, boy.” She stood up, pulling her knitting needles out of the yarn.
The young man drew his sword.
At the same time Mrs. Nornwell gave an shrill, eerie cry, she let her knitting needles fly. The two implements cut through the air like bullets. The young man ducked. The knitting needles struck the wall behind him and sank into the metal from the force of the old woman’s throw. But Mrs. Nornwell didn’t stop after her first failed throw. She immediately reached forward to get something else from her large red purse.
But the young man’s reaction was a bit faster as he swung the sword down and rent the old lady in half. She screamed and disappeared in a flash of light. After the winning blow, the young man let out a breath and slumped down on the floor. The sword fell from his hands with a clatter.
The census taker and the kelpie hurried over to help him back up. When the young man sharply inquired as to who they were, the census taker smiled at him kindly and managed to convince him that they were friends. The kelpie lifted up the young man and placed him into the nearest seat. Then he tried to pick up the sword, but he hissed when the hilt burned at the touch. The census taker, however, had no problems wrenching the knitting needles out of the wall and gathering up the rest of Mrs. Nornwell’s belongings.
“The sword, apparently, is only attuned to you at the moment,” the kelpie said.
The young man sighed wearily, sounding many years older than his actual age, and found the energy to scoot over and bend down to take the sword from the floor. He lay it on the seat next to him. “What are you going to do with Mrs. Nornwell’s things? All of that stuff controls people’s fates.”
“Norns aren’t allowed to manipulate other people’s fates these days. They’re supposed to be the ones guarding against unnatural influences on destiny,” said the census taker. “I suspect Mrs. Nornwell was a renegade if she did all those horrible things to you. But rest assured, we’ll take these to the proper authorities.”
“I certainly hope so,” the young man replied. He glanced at the sword. “Because I’d rather not have to use this thing again. It’s rather heavy, you know.”