A Doomsday Book for Queen Mab – Entry #13
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 13 prompt “At the Crossroads”.)
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It was right after they passed the bright yellow sign saying “No Man’s Land: please drive carefully through village” that a black blur streaked in front of the car. The census taker swerved and slammed on the brakes. The kelpie swore, fingers clinging to the dashboard. They stopped at the side of the road.
“What was that?” said the census taker after she caught her breath.
“I don’t know. Maybe it was a stray dog. Or cat. Or badger. You know how it is in the middle of nowhere.”
They were right at a crossroads, not far from the village No Man’s Land which itself was a crossroads to several other villages in the area. But that was not their destination. Their next assignment was a few miles to the south.
“You’re probably right,” she replied. “We might as well…ah!”
HELLO! HELLO! HELLO!
A gigantic hound that resembled a black German shepherd with red eyes and a pink tongue patted the driver side window with large paws. The census taker tore off her safety belt and scrambled back towards the kelpie. Despite the closed windows, a heavy, oppressive wave of ancient magic wafted over them, smelling of damp moor heather and ivy.
The kelpie pushed her back into her seat despite her protests. “You’re the one who’s driving. So drive!”
“Ack! All right. You don’t have to be so insensitive. That thing scared the daylights out of me.”
I AM NO THING. I AM SHUCK.
“All the more to get the hell out of here,” said the kelpie. “That’s a demon dog.”
NO, said the demon dog. As the census taker hit the accelerator, the wheels squealed, spinning fruitlessly. I AM COMING WITH YOU.
“I’m sorry, but no,” said the census taker. “If you need to get somewhere, you can just get a ticket like everyone else and take the bus.”
I DO NOT LIKE THE BUS.
“Here,” said the kelpie. He handed the census taker a jar of the magical Boston molasses. “It worked the last time with that other Ancient One.”
The census taker took the jar and opened the window a crack. She held out the jar. “Here. Take this and leave us alone.”
The demon dog sniffed at the jar. IT IS SPOILED BY WEIRD MAGIC.
“That’s the whole point,” said the census taker. “We’ll exchange this for being let go.”
I HAVE A BETTER IDEA.
The car doors unlocked themselves.
“What!” The census taker tossed the molasses jar back at the kelpie and tried to engage the door locks again, but they wouldn’t respond to her frantic pressing. “Damn it!”
The back door to the rental car opened of its own accord. The demon dog jumped in and the door closed in after him. It was then that the door locks started working again. The census taker cursed a second time with the kelpie joining her. The Ancient One gave them a doggy grin and thumped his large tail against the seat.
TIME TO DRIVE, LITTLE SELKIE. I WANT TO GO ON AN ADVENTURE.
“Look, Dog,” said the kelpie.
MY NAME IS NOT DOG. IT IS SHUCK.
“Look, Shuck,” he tried again. “We’re not adventurers. She’s a census taker. And I’m her assistant. We’re out here for work, not fun. And our work is very boring. You wouldn’t like it.”
YOU ARE A TERRIBLE TRICKSTER, KELPIE. I CAN SMELL THROUGH YOUR FLIMSY LIES.
“Besides,” said the census taker, “you’re going to scare off our next assignment.”
MAYBE. MAYBE NOT. DRIVE. OR DO YOU WANT ME TO DO IT?
“Now don’t be so hasty,” she backpedaled. “Garrick and I are the only ones signed up for this rental. And I’m pretty sure it’s not legal for a demon dog to operate a vehicle. Even in Cornwall.” She turned back in her seat and started the car again and turned it back on the road.
“You should have chosen to hitchhike with someone who actually likes dogs,” said the kelpie. He held out the jar of molasses. “Are you sure you wouldn’t want this instead?”
NO. Shuck gave a woof that vibrated throughout the car and made the kelpie and selkie’s hair stand on end. I HAVE NO USE FOR THAT. I ONLY WANT ADVENTURE. IT HAS BEEN BORING SITTING AT THE CROSSROADS FOR THE PAST CENTURY.
The census taker sighed. “Maybe if we’re lucky, we’ll pass someone driving a shiny Jaguar and he could go chase after that instead.”
“One can hope,” the kelpie agreed. They both turned to look out on the road, wordlessly agreeing that it would probably be best to pretend at the moment that there wasn’t a demon dog lounging on the backseat. He turned up the volume on the car stereo. BBC Radio Cornwall was still on a pirate themed kick, playing a song by a band called Flogging Molly.
From the ashes charred and blue
Smellin’ like a Salty Dog
Back from Hell where you belong.
I LIKE THIS, declared the demon dog, wagging his tail to the beat.