A Doomsday Book for Queen Mab – Entry #20

by syaffolee

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 20 prompt “Cold Comfort”.)

* * *

The beach bum merman handed the census taker a bowl of steaming soup that he had boiled in an old cauldron on top of the fire. “Breakfast is served. Eat up, lass.”

She took the bowl from him and looked into the dark, murky liquid. It was warm at least. “What is it?”

As Wright handed another bowl to the kelpie, he replied. “My version of miso soup. I learned the recipe from an old Japanese dragon who spent most of his life perfecting it.”

“Are there any sardines or crab in this?”

“No. It’s entirely vegetarian. And organic, I might add.”

While the census taker slowly sipped the soup, the kelpie gulped it down. “This doesn’t taste like miso soup,” said the census taker just as the kelpie made an odd face and muttered something about it being too salty.

“Oh. Well, it’s sourced locally, too.”

“You mean you just took the seaweed from out there,” she said, nodding toward the sea, “and boiled it.”

“This is one hundred percent organic! And local!” Wright’s face turned red as he began shouting. “Are you trying to say I should use some processed crap made by some evil corporation?”

“I never said that. I’m just implying that maybe sometimes it’s not such a great idea to substitute ingredients in a recipe. There’s nothing inherently wrong with your cooking.”

The kelpie shook his head as he placed his bowl to the side. “And sometimes, you just need more cooking lessons.”

Before the merman could respond to that remark, the sound of Edvard Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” erupted from one of the coats drying on the driftwood rack.

The census taker grimaced. “It’s the director.”

“Are you going to answer that?” asked the kelpie. “Personally, I wouldn’t. You’ve just been through a traumatic near drowning. You need time to recover before you talk to anyone.”

“No. I’ll need to take it.” She made to get up, but the kelpie put a hand on her shoulder, keeping her down.

“I’ll get it.” He went over to the rack and plucked the mobile phone from her coat pocket and tossed it to her.

The census taker neatly plucked the ringing phone from the air and answered it. “Hello?” A pause. Then, “No, it didn’t work. No, she didn’t answer any of the questions. We’re not at Loch Ness right now. Where are we?” She looked back up at the kelpie and the merman. “So where are we?”

“A few kilometers from Nairn,” Wright supplied.

“A few kilometers from Nairn,” she repeated back to the director. “How did we end up here? Um, well, we got blasted out here.”

The director squawked loudly, causing the census taker to wince and hold the phone at arm’s length. He ranted so loudly that the kelpie and the merman could clearly hear him cursing their last assignment from here, to the ends of the earth, and beyond. When the rant wound down, the census taker cautiously put the phone back to her ear.

“Uh, sir, what should we do now?” There was a long moment as she listened with a strangely neutral expression. Then she said, “Yes, sir.” And then she disconnected.

“Well, what did the director have to say?” the kelpie asked. “About what to do about the assignment, I mean. We all clearly heard what he thinks about the whole thing.”

“We’re being reassigned,” she replied. “To North Yorkshire.”

“North Yorkshire? North Yorkshire! There’s nothing in North Yorkshire except parks, parks, and more parks. It’s so boring, even the most solitary of fae don’t want to live there.”

“I heard North Yorkshire has Flamingo Land,” said Wright. “I heard they have some rather frightening rides.”

“We’re not going to Flamingo Land,” the census taker replied. “We’ll be visiting the villages where people actually live. As for the former assignment, the director will be giving it to Bjorn.”

“Bjorn? Who’s he?” asked the kelpie. “Does he know a lot of magic?”

“Sort of. He’s impervious to magic.”

“That must be nice, knowing that you could never get enchanted. But still, that’s cold comfort knowing that someone else will be dealing with that witch. We’ve been sent to North Yorkshire! Will we be going to Scarborough, though?”

“No, the director isn’t that kind. He’s sending us to Swaledale to interview sheep,” replied the census taker.

“For the love of Queen Mab, that must be the director’s punishment for us after having failed the assignment.”

“At least you wouldn’t be blasted by more witches,” said the merman. “Here. Have more soup. At least that’s warm.”