A Doomsday Book for Queen Mab – Entry #22
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 22 prompt “Solar-Powered Orchid”.)
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Adolphous Turner Bell, who went by the name of Turner, lived in Riding House, at the end of an unmarked lane in the tiny village of Crackpot. Riding House looked more like a cottage with its stone hewn walls covered in ivy, thatched roof, and a neat little gate which fenced in the front yard. The kelpie had been hoping for an offer of tea and biscuits since it was near tea time when they visited Turner, but instead, the elf had insisted on having his interview conducted in the greenhouse behind his actual dwelling.
Turner belonged to the Aegir clan which made it even more curious as to why he was living all the way out in Crackpot. The Aegir elves typically lived in the fashionable districts of cities, working as financial consultants, bankers, or insurance agents. The Aegir loved fashion and style and they all had the money to indulge in those expensive tastes. Most, if not all of them, would not be caught dead in the backwoods of North Yorkshire. Turner, however, wore the uniform of a farmer with overalls and heavy coat. But there was still hints that his stylish instincts were not completely extinguished. The coat he wore, for instance, had shiny brass buttons rather than a functional steel zipper.
“Really, it would be absolutely no trouble at all for us to have the interview back at your house,” the census taker said, even as Turner headed down a trampled path towards the squarish greenhouse. She hurried to catch up, with the kelpie not far behind. “The interview itself won’t take that long. Only a couple of questions. And then we will be out of your hair.”
“Of course, darling. But I would like for you to come to my greenhouse and see my latest acquisitions first,” said Turner, completely ignoring the census taker’s comment. “So very few visitors come out here to Crackpot to see, well, anyone. I’m hoping these will survive the winter so I can take them to the Scarborough Gardening Show in the spring.”
“We really don’t know anything about gardening, Mr. Bell.”
“We’re just census officials,” the kelpie added.
But Turner had already opened the door to the greenhouse and stepped inside. The census taker and the kelpie could only follow.
“Maybe we should humor him this once,” the census taker sighed.
The kelpie cracked his knuckles. “Or perhaps not. We can always tie him up and start the interrogation.”
“Garrick, this is the twenty-first century. Not the Inquisition.”
They went inside and was immediately hit by a wall of hot air that felt like an inferno compared to the early winter atmosphere outside. The combination of the humidity and the dark green flora crammed into every available space made the greenhouse a jungle oasis in the middle of British farmland.
Turner stopped by a bench holding several terracotta pots with colorful blooms. “One of my friends is a botanist. He travels all over the world and brings me specimens all the time. This one here is Corallorhiza maculata. This one’s a Habernaria radiata. And this beauty over here is a Holcoglossum kimballianum. I think it would have a big chance to win first prize. Or at least best of show if it survives the winter. What do you think?”
The census taker rubbed her temples. “English, please? I don’t think I understood any of that.”
“Oh, excuse me. I keep forgetting that not everyone these days is versed in Latin,” said Turner. “Which is a terrible shame, if you ask me. The only second language kids these days know is texting. Which really ruins any understanding of grammar.”
The kelpie frowned. “That’s not relevant to the question, Mr. Bell.”
The elf sniffed disdainfully at the kelpie. “And what do you know? You’re just a kelpie who eats everything indiscriminately.”
The kelpie’s eyes narrowed. “I’ll have you know that I have a very discerning palate.”
“As I was going to tell the lovely Miss Keir, these are solar-powered orchids.”
“They’re plants,” said the census taker flatly. “Aren’t they all solar-powered, by definition?”
At that remark, Turner’s expression turned sly. He gestured for them to follow him further into the greenhouse. “Oh no. Not all of them are solar-powered.”
Past more potted orchids and two orange trees, they stopped at a bench top which was clear of everything except for a couple of gardening tools, a clear glass case containing an ant colony minding its own business, and a pot holding a peculiar orchid with dark brown petals. A strange, thickly sweet scent emanated from it making the census taker’s skin prickle as if she was in the presence of some kind of enchantment or sorcery. She glanced at the kelpie to see if he smelled it. He frowned slightly and shook his head as if trying dispel the effects of the scent.
“This,” Turner said proudly, “is a subspecies of black orchid that my friend got for me from the depths of the Amazon jungle. It is carnivorous.”
“Carnivorous?” the census taker inquired.
“Watch.” Turner took a stick and jabbed it into the ant colony. Some of the surprised ants clung to the stick when he pulled it out. Then, he put the stick next to the orchid. Sensing sweet nectar, the ants crawled off the stick and into the orchid. Only to slip on the waxy petals and drown in the liquid depths to be slowly digested. “Isn’t that fantastic?”
“That’s morbid,” said the kelpie.
“And cruel,” the census taker added. She waved a hand near her nose. “That smell. It has gotten stronger.”
Turner gave her a wide, inhuman smile. “Why, my dear, that’s why this is my prize. As the black orchid eats, it releases a perfume into the air. But this is no ordinary orchid perfume. This perfume is an aphrodisiac that can compel whoever smells it to do what the owner wants. And right now, I want you.”
“Oh no you don’t,” said the kelpie as he loped an arm around the census taker. He jerked her closer to him as the elf lurched forward and tried to make a grab. “Hold your breath, Aileen!”
The census taker was already pinching her nose. She backed away and started running with the kelpie out of the greenhouse.
“I command you to come back!” Turner shouted. “You have to come back! I need a girlfriend!”
They kept running, around Riding House and out the gate. Once back on the lane, they deeply breathed the cold crisp air to clear their lungs.
“No wonder the rest of the Aegir want nothing to do with him,” the census taker said as she took another breath. “That is not how you get a date.”