An unusually thick fog muffled the footsteps of the men as they followed the path to the tractor shed. It pooled under the huge water oak, making ghostlike shapes in the trailing Spanish moss. Bobby Boudreaux shivered and said, “I don’t like this. It’s spooky working out here in the fog.”
“You think there’s monsters gonna get you?” Jason Thibodeaux teased. “Maybe an alligator gonna swim through the fog and eat you.”
“Something just don’t feel right. It’s like the fairy fog in that story Allyn’s in.”
“I’ll get rid of it.” Allyn Jones stopped in front of the shed, held up his hands, and said a few words in Welsh. The fog dissipated. Tapping sounds came from the shed. Tick, tick, tap, tap, tap, like a small hammer being used.
Etienne Comeaux opened the door. The noise stopped. He looked around and saw nothing out of place. “Must be a rat or something,” he said as he climbed onto the tractor. Before he could start it, they heard it again, louder. Tap, tap, tick, tap. It sounded like it was coming from the cabinet where the hand tools were kept. Etienne got off the tractor and walked over to it. Tappity, tick, tick, tick. Allyn stepped in the shed. Tickety, tap, tap. Etienne asked, “Allyn, are you playing a trick?”
“No. Why would I do anything to slow you down? Evelyn wants the garden plowed today, not tomorrow.” Tick, tap, tick, tap, tick, tap.
Jason said, “Maybe it’s the alligator with the clock in his belly from Peter Pan.”
“Or maybe it’s a leprechaun. It is St. Paddy’s Day,” Etienne said with a grin.
“We’re not Irish,” Bobby said, “And we’re in Texas.”
“You’re all Swamp Irish.” Allyn yanked the cabinet door open. The contents were exactly as they should be. He ran his fingers through his red hair, shook his head, and closed the door. “Get the tractor started and out of here. We have a garden to get ready.” Etienne cranked up the tractor and backed it out. They hitched the plow up and he drove to the garden.
Allyn said, “Jason, Bobby, take those hay forks and loosen that pile of manure so I can scatter it before Etienne plows.”
On the first turn, the handle on Jason’s tool snapped in the manure. “What the heck? This was a new handle.” He looked at the steel fork stuck in the pile and the handle in his hands. When he bent to pull the fork out of the pile, he fell face down in it. They heard a giggle. Jason scrambled to his feet spewing and spitting. “Bobby, I’ll get you for pushing me!” he shouted as he wiped his eyes.
“I didn’t do it. I’m on the other side of the pile,” Bobby said. They heard another giggle and tap, tap, tappity, tick, from the shed. “That’s creeping me out,” Bobby said.
“Me too,” Jason said as he brushed manure off his clothes. “Allyn do you have any idea what’s happening?”
“Yeah, it’s St. Paddy’s Day and we’re plowing the garden. Step back.” He waved his hands at the pile of manure and it went flying to the garden where it spread out evenly. As it drifted down, a gust of wind caught it and blew some onto Etienne.
He coughed and yelled, “Allyn, that got me!”
“I didn’t do that.” They heard the giggle again.
Etienne set the plow and started. Throughout the day, they were plagued with minor setbacks. Every time, they heard that laugh and the tapping sound. By late afternoon the sun shone on the freshly tilled garden. Etienne drove back to the shed. As soon as he shut off the tractor engine, they heard the tapping again. Tick, tap, tick, tap, tap, tap.
Evelyn Eden and her cat Bob walked up just then. “What’s that noise?” Bob’s fur fluffed out and he let out a low growl.
Allyn said, “Something’s making a racket in there. We looked and couldn’t find anything.” They heard the annoying giggle again. Tap, tappity, tap.
Evelyn said, “Bob, get it.” The big bobcat bounded into the shed and began sniffing around. Tick, tap, tap, tap. Bob began clawing at the cabinet door. Evelyn opened it. Bob pounced. A shrill squeal turned into a string of Celtic curse words. The cat had his teeth on something that did not want to be dragged out into the open. His haunches flexed as he pulled. He shook his head and growled.
They all heard the voice say in a thick Irish brogue, “Turn me loose, you monster!” Allyn’s right eyebrow went up. He stepped over to Bob’s side and reached into the cabinet and took hold of some cloth with a limb in it. He and the cat pulled. They heard, “By all gods in Ireland, are you trying to kill me?!”
“Maybe I should, you little pwka!” Allyn looked over his shoulder. “A little help here?” Etienne grabbed Allyn’s shoulders and pulled. Jason and Bobby joined in and they heaved back. A sound like a giant cork being removed from a huge bottle filled the shed. They all tumbled back into a pile. Bob got to his feet and shook the creature he held in his teeth.
“Bloody cath paluc! Call it off!” the creature squealed.
Allyn sat up and saw what Bob had. A little man was struggling to get out of the coat Bob had his teeth in. Allyn shouted, “Bobby, Jason, grab him!” They scrambled to grab the man by his arms and legs. He put up a fight, thrashing wildly. Allyn and Etienne joined the fray. The four men and the cat rolled around, trying to subdue the little man.
The melee stopped when Evelyn stepped up, reached down and touched the intruder, saying, “Stasis.” The wee man ceased to move.
Bob turned loose and stood back growling, his fur standing in a ridge down his back. Etienne, Jason, Bobby, and Allyn disentangled themselves and stood, looking at what had given such a fight. Only three feet in length, he wore brown knee breeches and a white linen shirt. His brown stockings were bunched around his ankles and his green jacket was torn where Bob’s teeth had latched on. Shiny silver buckles gleamed on his leather shoes and on the belt around his waist. His craggy wizened face was frozen in a grimace, his limbs in the position he was in when Evelyn touched him.
Bobby was the first to speak. “We just caught a leprechaun, didn’t we?”
“It’s the guy off the Lucky Charms box,” Jason said.
Etienne nudged him with the toe of his boot. “Sure looks like him.”
“He shoved me into the manure.” Jason said.
“He screwed with us all day.” Etienne said.
“What’re we gonna do with him?” Bobby asked.
“We can’t feed him to the gators today,” Allyn observed, “they’re all hibernating.”
“I could use him as a garden gnome,” Evelyn said. A tiny squeaky groan came from the static leprechaun.
“We need to find out why there’s a leprechaun in Southeast Texas.” Allyn looked at Evelyn. “If you would be so good as to release him from stasis, we can ask him.” He looked at the cat. “Don’t let him get away.” Bob nodded and put a big paw on the leprechaun’s chest.
Evelyn waved her hand and the leprechaun’s limbs went slack. He lay on his back looking up at the people who caught him. “I guess you want me pot of gold? Well, you’re out of luck. I was robbed before I got here.”
Allyn leaned down and studied the captive’s face carefully. One side of his mouth turned up in a wry smile. He laughed. “You lying bit of fairie dust. You never had any gold.”
The little man curled his lip back in a sneer. “And you’d know, wouldn’t you, you miserable overgrown ginger mongrel. I know who you are. You’re one of the seven.”
“And I know you. Tell me why you’re here or you’ll wish I’d killed you back then.”
“No need to get nasty about it. I was looking for a place to hide and gather me wits.”
“That’s a lost cause. What are you hiding from?”
“A bit of trouble.” Bob growled and flexed his paw, putting his claws through the shirt. “Call off this beast.” Bob licked the leprechaun’s face. The wee man fainted.
Allyn picked him up and shook him none too gently. He came to and started kicking. Allyn set him on the floor and said, “Ev, stick his feet to the floor.” She pointed at him. The leprechaun struggled, but couldn’t budge either foot.
Evelyn spoke. “Finnbheara.”
“Aye, that’s me. You have me by all rights.” At that, the little man’s ugly face blurred and changed to a handsome one with fine features and smooth skin. He looked her up and down, and said, “I don’t believe I’ve made your acquaintance, my lovely.”
“I’m not your lovely anything, you womanizing little troll. You’re on my land and here I’m the Queen. Behave yourself or you’ll never see Eire again.” She had her finger pointed at him. “You’ll be a lawn ornament.”
Finnbheara bowed. “Your majesty, I beg your forgiveness and your protection.” He looked at the four men standing around glowering at him.
“I’ll give you no protection from them or the cat.”
“You’re no better than the Morrigan,” he groused.
She raised her hand and pointed her finger. “You can be dust to make my garden fertile. The fairies can find a new King.”
“Oh me, you may as well,” he sighed. “Me wife tossed me out of me house because I was dallying with the pretty girls.”
“I should send you back to her trussed up and in stasis so she can do with you as she pleases.” Finnbheara cringed.
Allyn said, “He owes us some time in the garden. He slowed us down and broke every tool he could. He’s not going home to Una until he’s worked that off.”
“Thank you laddie. I’ll see to it you have a fine crop. Might I have a bite to eat and a drop to wet me whistle?”
Before Evelyn loosed Finnbheara’s feet, she said, “You’ll turn to stone if you even think of acting out.”
“You have me word. I’ll mind me P’s and Q’s. Now what do we have to eat and drink?”
“Alligator gumbo and Shiner Bock.”
“We’re eatin’ dinosaurs and drinkin’ weak beer?”
Evelyn pointed her finger and Finnbheara became still and silent. She said to Etienne, “Bring the garden gnome along, he can watch us eat dinosaurs and drink Texas beer.”
Characters in this story, except for Finnbheara, appear in the novel Slant Well.
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