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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

Rocket to the New World

 

“Don’t worry,” Edith said softly. “It’s only a little pain.”

The little boy squeezed his eyes shut as she pierced his deltoid with the needle.  He whimpered.

“That’s the last of them,” she said, rising and addressing her nurse. “They’re all ready.”

“Don’t they need to go in for de-lousing?”

“They’ve already done that,” Edith replied.  “Let’s move them along. They’re eager to get to their new world.”

“Have you been there?” the little boy said. “Have you seen it?”

“I’ve seen pictures,” Edith said. She smiled and helped him down from the examination table. “It’s lovely. The plants have taken to the soil there like you wouldn’t believe. The trees are so tall. Everything is mammoth.”

“Mammoths?”

“Shut the fuck up and get back in line, little boy,” Edith said, nudging him gently on his way with her knee. “I haven’t got all day for this expositional dialogue.”

“Mammoths?” said the nurse.

Edith slapped her.

“I was joking,” the nurse said, rubbing her cheek.

“That’s why I slapped you,” Edith said. “The rocket’s taking off.  Run!”

They outpaced the little boy and made it onto the closing rocket doors just in time. Humanity pressed all around them. It was going to be a long and horrible ride. There was a reason they’d all needed shots.

This was a third-class carrier, cobbled together from other rockets, scrapped vehicles, unitrains, hoverbuses, and such. Every color of metal had been welded into the walls that surrounded them. Sometimes brightly varied colors did not have a cheerful effect, and this was one of those times. Even though she’d joined this ship with a discount by offering her free skills as a phlebotomist, it was all she could afford.

“Thank god for cryo-sleep,” Edith said to no one in particular. “I am so ready to be this far from the earth.”

All around them, clouds of sleeper gas filled the chamber. Everyone scrambled to find a comfortable spot on the floor before they were completely incapacitated by the gas.

“I heard they’re giving land away there,” a good-looking young man said to her.

“Shut the fuck up,” Edith said happily as she dozed off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

Dumbass

 

Nancy sits quietly in her bed, coloring.  Her brother comes in and glances at the work. She tries to hide it. He overpowers her and holds it up.

“Pink, purple, purple, pink!” He jeers. 

Her mother, drawn into the room by the commotion, catches him by the ear. “Give that back to her, Aaron,” she says.

Nancy snatches the papers out of his weakened grip. “Dumbass,” she hisses.

“Nancy!” her mother says. “Nice girls don’t say nasty things. And they color inside the lines, to practice their hand-eye coordination.”

After they leave the room, Nancy puts her crayons away.

 

Nancy sits in the back row in her high school class.

“Who knows the answer?” The teacher calls.

Nobody answers. If no one else is going to try… Nancy raises a timid hand.

“Yes, Nancy?” the teacher says.

“Twenty-three?”

The teacher shakes her head. “No, that’s incorrect. How did you get that answer?”

“Um… in my head.”

“Come up to the board and show me.”

Nancy feels a flush spreading as she walks up to the board, in front of everyone, and slowly hashes out her incorrect question in front of her bemused classmates. The pressure makes her slow, awkward. She can hardly hold the chalk, much less think.

“No, see here,” the teacher says. “You’ve skipped this entire row.”

 A titter from behind her.

“Don’t worry about them,” the teacher says. “We’ll go as slow as you need to go.”

 

The family eats together at the dinner table, Aaron declares his acceptance into Penn State.

“Of course you were accepted,” her mother says.

“We’re proud of you,” her father says.

Nancy focuses on her potatoes. 

 

He walks into the drugstore where she works. Underneath his T-shirt he’s lean as a whippet, unlike herself. She appreciates the nape of his neck as he picks out a drink, making sure to avert her eyes before he makes his way back to her register. She’s good at watching people without being noticed.

He pays for the drink in cash. As she accepts the money, she risks another glance at his face, and is caught like a moth in his electric blue eyes. 

He isn’t looking at her the way others do.

He sees her.

 

Nancy’s hands are shaking. She sits crumpled next to him on the bed.

She should have been smarter about it. But she could never say no to him. No, that’s not right. She can’t blame him. It was her responsibility to prevent this kind of thing. She has simply failed again. What will her mother say?

“You don’t want to get it taken care of?” Robby says.

She cradles her hands around her belly. “If you think I should,” she whispers.

“Well,” he says, pausing to irritably suck his cigarette, “we’ll have to get married then.”

Even when she doesn’t ask, he always knows what she wants. She’ll be able to move out of her mother’s house. He is doing this for her. He is saving her. She feels a rush of gratitude.

 

Nancy is six months along. She is making dinner when she delivers the news to Robby.

“A girl, huh,” he says. “Shit. She’s not going to be much to look at.”

“No, Robby,” Nancy says softly. 

Robby glowers at her. “What did you say.”

Her voice remains low. She can’t even look at him but she must say this now. “You don’t get to talk about her that way. Not her.”

“You don’t get to fucking tell me what to do!”

He hits her for the first time. She turns to protect her belly from hitting the stove as she falls.

They never talk about it again. He quits drinking and doesn’t hit her for a year.

 

When their baby is born, Nancy watches, tense as a predator, whenever he draws near to the baby. Robby senses that anything directed at Elsa will be the end of them. Eventually he learns to avoid their daughter.

Nancy isn’t always safe. She can accept that as long as Elsa is safe.

 

Elsa is four years old, coloring quietly. Robby sees the pages on the floor, bends over to examine them. Nancy stiffens, but Robby is focusing on Elsa and misses her warning. She sees in his body language what is coming.

“C’mon Elsa. There’s no such thing as a green dog,” he says.

Before Elsa’s eyes even have a chance to widen, Nancy is there. She scoops her daughter up in her arms. Robby and Elsa are both startled by her interference.

“What?” Robby says. 

Nancy heads to the kitchen counter, grabs the car keys.

“Are you crazy?” Robby says.

She leaves the house through the front door. Elsa starts crying.

“What is your fucking problem!?” 

Nancy shuts the car door and calls out the window at him. “You dumbass.”

She drives away, leaving him standing in the doorway, unable to believe.

She fears the future, protecting Elsa alone against the world. But she’ll figure something out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

Russian Dolls

 

She was using the circular saw, and she got distracted. It cut deep into her hand.

She watched it sinking into her skin and raised the saw free before she ever felt anything. Then the pain found her, searing the nerves from her hand to her elbow. She curled up reflexively around the wound and tried not to faint while drops of blood plip-plipped on the garage floor. After a full minute, she regained her equilibrium enough to move. The damaged half of her hand had already drained into an alarming shade of pale.

The hospital. They had to go to the hospital.

She went inside, wrapped her hand tightly in a dishcloth to keep the blood in, and called to her son.

“Alex!” Her voice trembled.

Normally he might have called back, but her uncharacteristic tone sent him running down the stairs. He saw her bloody, limp hand and almost gagged.

“Alex, I need you to drive me to the hospital.”

“God, mom. God. Let’s call an ambulance.”

“No… too expensive. I need you to drive me there.”

“Money doesn’t matter! Your hand matters! What if you pass out? What if I crash?”

She understood his lack of confidence. Alex only had his permit. But she wasn’t worried. “You’re a good driver, Alex. It’ll be fine. We’re going now.”

Her parental authority won out. He got the keys as she struggled into the passenger seat of the car. Her hand throbbed magnificently… at least, the parts she could still feel. The part of her hand above the pinky and ring fingers was so deeply severed, there were no connected nerves remaining. She couldn’t move them at all. Funny how she hadn’t even noticed the damage she was doing until it was this deep.

 

They waited for a long time before the doctor came in. He looked at her hand, cleaned it up, and declared that her fingers would have a fifty percent chance of functionality after surgery. The odds of them still working after healing on its own? Only ten percent.

“What will surgery cost?” She said.

“Tough to estimate,” the doctor said. “At minimum, several thousand dollars. But your insurance will help with that. The receptionist can get you started on paperwork and give you an actual estimate.”

“Right,” she said. She looked at Alex, who already knew what she was thinking. He shook his head at her fiercely.

“Thank you, doctor,” she said formally.

When the doctor left the room, she got off the table, fought back a wave of nausea, and headed for the door. Alex boldly intercepted, blocking her exit. Sometimes she forgot how tall he was getting.

“Mom! Don’t you dare.”

He sounded so much like her. She would have laughed if she’d had the strength.

“It costs too much,” she said firmly.

“It doesn’t matter,” he retorted.

“Just take me home,” she said. “He said it might heal on its own.”

“No way.”

“And if it doesn’t, I don’t need those fingers anyway. I’ve got others.”

“You’ll stay here and get treatment!” He said, fists clenched in frustration.

She looked at her hand. It was already prematurely aged from worry. Now it was a ghoulish rainbow of mottled purple, sickly blue, weak white, screaming red. No good colors there. She looked at Alex, his rich chestnut hair and intelligent brown eyes. 

She had grown up poor. The constant worry of her childhood, the deprivation her family endured, were bitter memories. He would have everything she never had. All the money she scraped together was going into his college fund. There was no way she was going to send him into adulthood saddled with debt and the weight of a poverty mentality. She was willing to sacrifice a couple of fingers for that. For him.

“We’re going,” she said. She gingerly made her way past him and through the door, leaving him no choice but to follow.

“God damn it mom,” he said. He was trying not to cry. “Why won’t you just let them help you?”

“Language,” she chided gently.

 

That night, after putting his mom to a fitful sleep with a freshly bandaged hand, Alex lay down in his own bed, but his eyes would not close. A throbbing headache expanded in his right temple, pressuring the backs of his eyeballs, forcing neon geometry across his vision of the dark ceiling.

He got up, went to the bathroom medicine cabinet, and pulled out a bottle of painkillers. It was light in his hand, nearly empty. He often got headaches like this. These pills had become a comfortable friend to him.

How much did a bottle like this cost, again?

He sighed, ran his thumb longingly over the cap, then put the bottle back. If Mom could take that, he could take this. Money was too tight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why it’s important to respect nature

 

Jeb was a park ranger. Bill was a sheriff.

One day Bill took Jeb out to lunch. They had a nice time. They fell in love. Marriage it wasn’t legal for them yet, so they moved to a cabin in the woods and taxidermied simple woodland creatures together. It was a happy life, until Jeb blew up.

Bill was in the cabin going through his glass eye collection when it happened. When he heard the blast, he immediately knew that Jeb was gone.

He sat quietly for a long time.

Then he got the keys to the Subaru, he got his shotgun, he got all the leftover dynamite, he packed himself a nice salami sandwich with mustard, and went to get his revenge.

The only recognizable thing he found at the site of the explosion were Jeb’s boots, standing upright in the center of a crater.

The remains of the truck were in orbit over Manitoba.

But Bill wasn’t sheriff for nothing. He was smart. He used his senses. He sniffed, he scratched, he dug, he burrowed, at last unearthing an ancient bunny burial burrow. Jeb must have unknowingly trespassed, incensing the wildlife, sealing his doom.

Bill stuffed all the dried up bunny mummies into the Subaru, loaded the burrow with dynamite, and blew their sacred area up the rest of the goddamn way.

Then he went home and feverishly worked on taxidermying the ancient bunny mummies all night, gluing them into embarrassing poses for all eternity, as he waited for the retaliation of the forest.

A scratching sounded at his door, but it was nothing. Only a stray mountain lion.

Just when dawn touched the horizon, the bunnies came for him.

Bill was prepared.

They tripped a wire in front of his cabin door.

BOOM.

Up went all the bunnies, Bill, his cabin, and six acres of woodland besides.

He got revenge. He left his mark. But he did not win, as he knew he wouldn’t. No man can defeat the Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

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