Old Hodges and the Leprechaun
This was my first legit short story, written for class when I was fifteen. I still like it. I’ve cleaned up a few of the more egregious errors.
Old Hodges enjoyed the mild spring sun on the back of his neck and smelled the small herd of cows nearby as he mended his fence with the serenity of habit. Hodges was very proud of being able to maintain his farm all alone at eighty-two. He knew people, like that McCready down the road, who were brittle as dried leaves and batty to boot even though they were ten years younger than he was. But Old Hodges always dressed well and wouldn’t take help from nobody. He knew what he was about.
As he wound the wire together, slowly but dexterously, he heard a small voice cry out in pain and anger. Hodges stood up slowly and turned to listen. He heard it again, cursing loudly near one of his cows, who seemed unaffected. Concerned, Hodges ambled over to the noise and nearly stepped on the little screaming man as he sat yelling in the grass. “Well, I’ll be damned,” Hodges muttered. He had never seen a leprechaun before, didn’t really know what they were, so he didn’t know what to make of it. The leprechaun was about a foot and half in height, which was difficult to see right now because it was sitting on the ground. One of its legs was bruised and looked broken. It was wearing a green jacket and trousers, its fingernails were long, it had anything but a pleasant green face, and its emerald eyes shone wickedly. The leprechaun stopped cursing long enough to give the old man malicious look, then turned back to screaming at the cow, which was actually starting to look ill and had taken to staring back at the leprechaun, entranced.
Hodges interrupted its screaming, more on the cow’s behalf than for conversation. “She stepped on yer leg, there?” The leprechaun gave him another dirty look and said “What’s it to you?” in its small but rough voice. Its green eyes flicked over Hodges, and it must’ve seen something it liked, because its attitude softened into slight geniality. Before Hodges could answer its first question, it said sharply, “This your cow?”
“Yep, she’s mine. D’ya think I’d be here fartin’ around in someone else’s pasture?”
The leprechaun ignored the sarcasm and made an effort to get up, putting its weight on its good leg. It winced.
Now Hodges was no fool, he knew this thing was trouble, but he had a soft spot for little things in helpless situations, and he couldn’t leave it there all by itself. Besides, who knew what revenge it’d do on his cow if he left it alone with her. So he said, “You need some help, Kid?”
The leprechaun turned a darker shade of green at that familiarity, and answered with regal pride. “I want to go inside and lay down. I will pay you well.”
Bossy little green bugger, thought Hodges.
There was an awkward moment while Hodges decided how to move it. Eventually, rather than carry the vicious thing, he sat the leprechaun on his cow and led the cow home. That way he could keep an eye on her as well. She still wasn’t looking her perkiest. Hodges tried for conversation on the way but the thing gave him very short answers. This he attributed to the pain it was in, and he fell silent.
They arrived at his house. Hodges went inside first, leaving the leprechaun on the cow. The house was small and old but warm and dry, and had few decorations since his wife had passed away. Hodges set up a box and put some blankets in it. He wasn’t sure what the thing wanted out of him, but he could make it comfortable at least.
Hodges went back outside, took the cow by the halter, and tied it to a nearby tree. She noticed the deep grass there and brightened up. He helped the leprechaun down. Its eyes smoldered green fire as it looked over Hodge’s house.
“It ain’t much, but it’s home,” said Hodges, amused at the way the leprechaun stared contemptuously at his house. He didn’t know what it had expected, but he was getting joy out of its disappointment. Hodges was never a vindictive man, but this thing, he thought, would drive anyone over the edge. “Come on in,” he said, and picked it up (the startled look on its face would have been comical if it weren’t so ugly), took it inside, and put it in the box of blankets.
“I made you up a little bed of sorts.” Hodges said. “Are ya hungry? I’ve just got stew on the fire right now. You like stew?” not that it was in his house, he had a bad feeling, but his country hospitality prevailed. He couldn’t just kick it out of his house. It hadn’t really done anything to justify that, and he especially couldn’t kick something out of his house if it was a fourth his size and had a broken leg. Hodges turned to check the stew.
The leprechaun stared at the box around it in shock and horror. It had never been treated so casually. It colored green with anger again, but it thought of something, its color faded. A wicked smile spread across its face and it murmured something under its breath. At that moment the pot of stew overturned, putting out the fire and scalding Hodges’ hands. Hodges jumped back, shaking his hands and swearing.
The leprechaun laughed a merry cackle. Hodges waited for it to finish, but it just doubled over and kept laughing until tears ran down its face.
“Well, you nasty little varmint, if yer feelin’ lively enough to laugh that hard, I suppose yer lively enough to get back to yer little green hole in the ground or whatever it is yeh live in. I’m too old to put up with devils such as yerself. I could be having a mighty pleasant evenin’ without yeh, and my day’s work would be done on top o’ that.”
The leprechaun stifled its laughter and looked at him, face still wet from the tears, and said, “You don’t wanna do that. I’m rich. I can give you all the gold you ever wanted.”
“I don’t see no gold,” Hodges said, raising a bushy eyebrow.
“I can magic it up here faster than you can think,” it said with a twinkle in its eye Hodges didn’t quite trust. “I can give you a gold house, you can sleep on gold blankets, your garden can have gilded flowers which will never die, and you will be the richest and most respected man in town, in the world!”
“What in the hell–”
The leprechaun interrupted him. “All you have to do,” it said, “is let me stay in your house until I’m healed. Cook for me, entertain me, and make me laugh. For one week, until I’m better. That’s all I ask, for all the gold you can ever want.”
Hodges was far too old for such tricks. “What in the hell,” he repeated, “is the use of a gold house? I’ll be damned if it won’t invite every robber and good-for-nothing into my house. Kids’ll be taking chips off the thing. I wouldn’t get no peace. And gold blankets sound mighty uncomfortable to me. Pretty, sure, but if anything’ll warm you up at night, it sure as hell ain’t gold. And I don’t need to be rich to be respected. Folk already respect me ‘cause I’m old and I’ve got sense. If you’re so magic,” he said, “you make yourself a little ole gold cast and hobble on out of here on your own two little dirty little legs,” he said, and he laughed. “Magic, my old ass,” he said.
The leprechaun turned a darker green than Hodges had yet seen him. He muttered something, and Hodges heard a heavy thump outside. He looked back just in time to see the leprechaun disappear with a pop.
Old Hodges was startled at this display of true magic, but it just made him all the more glad the hateful thing was gone. He almost went outside to check on his cow, (that thump worried him) but he looked around first and saw that his rug had caught on fire. He stomped it out with his heavy work boots. He took the smoking rug outside and saw his cow. She was dead. It was too close to dark to get rid of her now. He looked up the hill and saw his other cows grazing, alive and well. He went back inside and cleaned up the stew, then fixed some bread and butter for dinner instead. He went outside, put his feet up, and lit his pipe. “Oh, hell,” he said, looking at his hand. His wedding ring, a plain band and the only piece of gold he owned, was gone. Being a widower, he hadn’t exactly needed it anyway. He could remember her without it. He reckoned he could have gotten off a lot worse.
“Hope something gets that little critter, out there with its broken leg.” He said to himself. “Ungrateful nuisance,” he said, and he smoked his pipe.