A Doomsday Book for Queen Mab – Entry #14
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 14 prompt “Cracked Spirit and Sealed Doors”.)
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Where was Jack the Giant Killer when you needed him?
THAT WOULD BE A RATHER BLOOD-THIRSTY SOLUTION, WOULDN’T IT?
The census taker glanced back at the demon dog named Shuck. “Perhaps. But it would do the job. Unfortunately, he is long gone and giant killers these days are scarce on the ground. It’s not a very popular occupation either with the GPL and everything.”
“The Giant Protection League.”
The census taker turned back to stare at the door to the enormous Victorian manor that sat hidden behind a line of trees from the rest of the coastal village of Looe. When she and the kelpie and the demon dog arrived at the road entrance to the estate of one Mr. Bodrigan, they had detected the faint traces of glamour that helped hide the entrance from any human curiosity seekers. That had definitely been a sign that they had arrived at the correct address, but it had given no hint that this particular assignment would be a difficult one.
Like every other residence, they had simply walked up to the front door and knocked. The demon dog had mentioned idly that he thought that the house was much bigger than usual, but they had thought nothing of that. It was a Victorian manor and it seemed par the course that whoever designed it built it on a grand scale to impress. But that theory had been shattered when the door had been opened by a giant. The manor had been built on a grand scale out of necessity.
The census taker had only a glimpse of an enormous person in a pink bathrobe and hair curlers when there was a loud shriek and a shout of “I’ve been looking all over for one!” before the kelpie was simply snatched up and taken inside. It was so quick that the kelpie didn’t even have time to yell for help.
When the door had slammed shut, she had tried the knob and banged on it until her fists were raw and red. Even the demon dog had a go at the door since he had the knack of unlocking things. But the door wouldn’t budge. It was sealed with very strong magic.
“That was no ordinary giant,” the census taker finally decided. “That giant is a witch.”
OR JUST SOMEONE WITH A MAGIC DOOR.
“Well, there’s that, too.” She took a long look at the manor’s front exterior. There were several windows on the ground level. But all the windows were protected by iron bars. “Maybe there’s a back door.”
They walked around the manor. The lawn was a startling shade of green that hinted at plastic. But the demon dog, after chewing a mouthful of blades and spitting them out, had been quite sure that it was real. At the back, a long row of hawthorn hedges fenced in a well kept garden filled with enormous rose bushes. The scent of the flowers made the place as overwhelming as a perfume counter.
A short stone terrace led up to a set of double doors painted white.
I SMELL SOMETHING STRANGE HERE.
The census taker ignored the hound who had put his nose to the ground and started sniffing at a scent trail that only he could detect. Instead, she ran up the terrace stairs. She tugged at the door handles and hit the door. “Garrick!”
She turned at Shuck’s exclamation and saw that the demon dog had wandered over to the base of a tall willow tree. He began to dig.
She hurried over. “What are you doing? Now is not the time to bury a bone! Garrick’s in that house. And the giant could be eating him right now.”
THIS IS NOT ABOUT A BONE.
The hole in the ground became bigger. But after a couple clods of earth went sailing past her head, something strange was ejected by the demon dog’s digging. It bounced on the grass once and then rolled through the grass to rest in a slight depression not far from the census taker’s feet. The demon dog bounded out of the hole, pink tongue hanging out, red eyes gleaming.
The stoneware container the size of a milk jug and the color of rust was shaped like a fat man with a beard and bulging eyes. Floral patterns had been carved into his belly. The census taker had only seen such a thing before at a rummage sale. They were known as Greybeards because of the frequent bearded man motifs seen on such containers. Or Bellarmine jugs, after a much feared inquisitor of the seventeenth century. More commonly, though, they were simply called witch bottles. But now that the demon dog had dug it out of the ground, she could sense the magic leaking from it.
Before she could examine it, Shuck sauntered up and sniffed at it once to check again that it was the object that he had been looking for. Then swiftly, he smacked a large paw onto the bottle. The stoneware noticeably cracked and began vibrating violently. The census taker reflexively covered her face with an arm as the bottle exploded, sending shards flying in every direction.
What was left was a black pulsing thing the size of a grapefruit. The demon dog gobbled it up and licked his chops as all the windows in the manor were suddenly shattered by a horrifying scream.
“Garrick!” The census taker ran back up the terrace steps. This time, the back doors easily opened at her touch. Once inside, she discovered that the manor appeared to be typically furnished like any other house, except that everything, from the tables and chairs and lamps and wall hangings, were super-sized for its occupant. “Garrick!”
A muffled yell could be heard from the upper floor. The stairs were enormous and it took her at least thirty seconds to haul herself up each stair. At the top, she stopped for a moment to catch her breath before continuing down a long corridor. Someone left the last door cracked open.
The room looked like a medieval torture dungeon. Twisted iron contraptions littered the corners. Sharp hooks dangled from the ceiling. Wicked looking instruments hung from the walls. The most noticeable thing in the room, though, was the scorch marks on the floor along with a pink bathrobe and some hair curlers.
The giant had locked up the kelpie in a large golden cage next to the window. The census taker hurried over to find that there was a large padlock on the cage door.
“Are there keys?”
“Up there.” The kelpie pointed above her head. She saw the glimmer of a key ring on one of the hooks.
Sighing, she pulled out a pin from her hair and started working.
“Are you crazy? The lock could be spelled. It could be…”
The padlock snicked open. She pulled it off and shoved the cage door open.
“I guess it wasn’t spelled,” said the kelpie.
Instead of replying, she simply hugged him. After a moment, his arms came around her. “Are you all right?” she mumbled into his shirt.
“I was about to be dissected, but I suppose I’m all right. Thank you. For not leaving me here.”
She looked up at him. “What? After all the trouble I had procuring you as an assistant, it would be a pain trying to get another one.”