A Doomsday Book for Queen Mab – Entry #18.1
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 11 prompt “Test Not My Resolve, Oh King”.)
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The only indication that there was something not quite so ordinary about Drury Street was the trickle of glamour leaking onto the pavement between the dentist’s office and an interior decorating store. The pedestrian talking on a mobile walked around the census taker and the kelpie and passed the glamour leak without any indication that he had felt anything unusual.
The census taker glanced up from the slip of paper where she had scribbled the address that the census bureau director had told them. “It’s supposed to be here. Did someone just remove it?”
“I have no idea,” replied the kelpie. “But I’m hungry after that train trip. I don’t know how you talked me out of getting a sandwich from that cafe near the station.”
“The prices at that cafe were outrageous. Besides, I’m sure you’ll survive without food for the next hour. First, we have to figure this out.”
The kelpie shrugged and stepped forward. “Well, it’s obviously not here so maybe we should…ah!” With another step, he suddenly vanished into thin air.
“Garrick!” The census taker walked to the spot where she had last seen her assistant. She took another step and felt the harsh grip of magic that had taken the kelpie away. It shoved her forward and she stumbled right into a pocket of space that had not been there earlier. The kelpie was there, staring at a thin green building that existed in the space between two buildings that were actually next to each other in the mortal world. Above the wood door with dark windows were the words “The Wulver King” painted in gold.
“I think this is the place,” said the kelpie. “The building’s magic must have recognized what we are so it revealed itself to us.”
“Definitely a neat trick,” said the census taker with a tone of voice that made it clear that she thought it was rather annoying. “Let’s go in and get that last thing we need for that appointment. This is getting rather tedious. It would be more efficient if they had sent a sorcerer to threaten to turn this guy into a toad if he didn’t answer the census survey.”
“Are there any sorcerers working for the census bureau?”
“Unfortunately, no. The lazy gits tend to prefer spending their time sneaking into gaming conventions if they’re not busy plotting to take over the world.”
“How do you know all of that?”
“My friend Eloisa. She’s a dryad. Who works as a promotional model for a video game company.”
“A booth babe? How do you know a booth babe?”
The census taker shrugged. “We were co-workers once.” She pushed through the door and stepped into a short foyer lined with dark wood. Just beyond was a wide room filled with patrons eating, drinking, playing darts, and watching sports television. It was apparent that the interior of The Wulver King was larger than its facade. She frowned as she looked around. How on earth were they to meet their contact in this crowd?
“Co-workers?” said the kelpie as he followed after her. “Does that mean you worked as a booth babe, too?”
“Promotional model,” she corrected absently as she craned her neck to peer deeper into the pub. “I quit because some idiots were just too grabby. Especially the idiot sorcerers.”
“Uh huh. Well, I can attest to the fact that you’re pretty slippery when you don’t want to be grabbed.” But the kelpie brightened when he spotted the rest of the room. “A pub! We can get food while we wait for our contact!”
A moment later, one of the pub waitresses, a young fae with deer antlers sprouting from her head, arrived to take them to a table next to a window and to take their orders. The census taker simply asked for fish and chips and a pint of the Dark Kraken which the waitress had described as a local Scotch ale done in the Unseelie style. She looked out the window as the kelpie started reciting a long list of dishes he wished to order.
The window did not overlook Drury Street in the mortal world. Instead of modern pavement, cobblestones lined the street. Across the way stood a narrow cottage with Tudor style architecture. A fae woman possessing antlers like their waitress watered the flower boxes hanging outside the first story windows. A cart, drawn by a giant goose, rolled down the street. On the cart sat a figure dressed in a long black duster and a tattered cowboy hat.
The census taker blinked and looked again. They were still there, although the figure had called a halt to the giant goose. He opened the back door of the cart and pulled out a mortal man who appeared rather nondescript except for the fact that he was wearing a bathrobe and a pair of particularly hideous shaggy pea green slippers.
“Oh, and don’t forget the shepherd’s pie!”
The waitress nodded. “Yes, sir. Is that all, sir?”
“I think that will do for a snack,” said the kelpie. When the waitress left, he turned back to the census taker. “What were you looking at?”
She pointed to the window.
“Wow! A giant goose! You don’t suppose we could just pop out there and bag it, do you? Think of the Christmas feast…”
There was a slight commotion at the door to the pub. A minute later, the two people the census taker saw outside arrived in the pub. The man in the cowboy hat and duster was in fact a rough looking fae with coal black eyes and a long ugly scar on his throat. No mortal weapon would have caused that kind of wound.
“We’re in a pub?” said the mortal in the bathrobe. “We’re in a pub! Thank God. I thought you were going to take me to some place awful.”
“Did I say I was going to take you to a horrible place?” The fae’s voice had a very flat accent.
“You certainly looked like you wanted to take me to a horrible place. Especially when I said I hadn’t had tea yet!”
The fae just stared at the mortal man. Then he pointed to the empty seat beside the census taker. “Sit.”
“Er. All right. But I’m only doing it because standing around is awkward.” He turned to the census taker. “Uh, hello. I’m Jack. I really apologize for the intrusion. You’d think a fairy godfather wouldn’t be this rude.”
The census taker felt sorry for the flustered mortal. “It’s all right. I heard you saying that you hadn’t had tea. We’ll order you a pot when the waitress gets back. It will make you feel much better.” She shook his hand. “I’m Aileen. And this is my assistant, Garrick.”
“We’re census officials,” she explained.
“Oh!” Jack seemed relieved. “That sounds ordinary enough. I was thinking the day couldn’t get weirder with him popping up in my flat this morning and turning my toaster into katana. I have absolutely no use for a katana except for maybe cutting the cabbages. And I’ve been wondering, is it even legal to own an unregistered katana?”
“Hey!” exclaimed the kelpie. The fae with the duster had taken the seat next to the kelpie without a by your leave. “This is our table! You can’t just barge in here like that.”
The fae turned to the kelpie and they both had a staring contest for a couple of long minutes before he replied, “I’m Rutherford. Your contact, kelpie.”
The kelpie bared his sharp teeth. “Oh? If you are, where’s the package?”
Rutherford gestured towards Jack. “That’s the package.”