Census by Christopher Allen | Flash Fiction | #thesideshow

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“Bring out yer cows!”

Sepp peers through a termite-gnawed crack in his ramshackle house. It’s Herbert. Outside. Creaking up the porch steps. In his Census Taker uniform. He’s Herbert the Census Taker at census time, otherwise just Herbert or Herbert the Plumber when there’s rust in the pipes. Definitely Census-taker Herbert in his pressed navy trousers. Sepp turns and winks toward his living room chuck-to-shank with cows.

“Bring out yer cows!”

“Hallo there, Herbert! Pipes are fine.”

“Census-taker Herbert,” says Census-taker Herbert. “Bring out yer cows!”

“Don’t have any cows,” says Sepp, just as one groans. “That was not a cow!”

“Bring out yer cows!”

“Will ya cap it with the cows!”

A pause.

“Bring out yer Austroasiatic migrants! Bring out yer Baigong Pipes and yer bronze! Bring out yer”— Census-taker Herbert flips a page—“chiefdoms and yer Coso artifacts!”

“How am I supposed to know where they are?”

“Bring out yer cows!”

Another heifer groans. Sepp pinches his eyes shut, breathes deeply through his nose. He forgets census day every single decade.

“Bring out yer disruptions, yer earthworks, yer emerging cultures, yer rare exceptions! Bring out yer feldspar, yer forts and yer forums! Bring out yer Gauls! And yer holes to the center of the earth!”

The plywood door opens a hair. “What if,” Sepp says, “said hole has not yet reached the center of the earth? Is it still a hole to, or might it merely be toward, the center?”

Census-taker Herbert considers this. “Bring out yer holes to-ward the center of the earth!”

Sepp bolts the door. He’s not about to bring out that hole. Nor any Gauls, which he’s fairly sure he doesn’t have. But the house is a crumbling mess and jammed to the ceiling with cows.

“Yer cows!”

“Aw, will ya pipe down? Yer scaring them.”

“Bring out yer Iberian Caliphates, yer Ica Stones, yer inevitabilities, yer Iron Men—”

“What’s that last one?”

“Dunno. It’s on the list.”

“Well I can’t bring it out if I don’t know what it is.”

“Bring out yer cows!”

Sepp slips onto the porch. A million and two termites shrug under the two men’s heft.


“Census-taker Herbert.”

“Census-taker Herbert, might I inquire why The State needs to know the number of cows hypothetically on these premises? And hypothetically belonging to the owner of said premises?”

“They’re on the list.”

“Yes, quite often apparently, but so are, say, Baigong Pipes, which are obviously in China. Do you see my point? It’s all so complicated, this census business, for, you know, the common man. Though you look spiff in the uniform. You do stay fit.”

“Aw, Seppie. Warms the soul.” Herbert blushes. “Bring out yer cows!” Spit flies into Sepp’s face.

“I have no cows!” Sepp shouts back, but there’s already one sniffing and licking through a buggy crack in the architecture.

About the Author

Christopher Allen is a freelance editor, writer and translator living somewhere in Europe. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Indiana Review, Juked, FRiGG, and lots more. He is the managing editor of SmokeLong Quarterly.