Now, I do believe that we’ve all tried to catch leprechauns before. Constructed elaborate traps, charades, devices to attract the mythical creatures with the promise of a golden reward. Every March, we would wear our green shirts and avoid the pinchings and prods of young kids, waiting ‘til the next morning only to find that our fool’s gold and spray paint bait inside our traps lay untouched by small Irish hands.
Most of us anyway.
The date was March 17, 2004. I was seven years old. For my birthday earlier that month, I’d gotten a small tool-kit and access to a woodyard. Using this, I lashed together a brilliant and devious machine, baited with my mother’s gold engagement ring. It was perhaps three feet tall, and used a counterweight attached to a plate on the ground in order to spring a hinge to slam three doors shut. It was amazing. It was grand. It broke my hand the first time I activated it.
Leaving the Trefoil, as I called it, in my backyard on a bare patch of ground between clover patches, I went to bed and passed out. No dreams. I was awake well before dawn the next morning, flinging myself out of bed with the kind of fervor usually reserved for Christmas morning. It was cold, as March should be, and the marine layer had just come in and blanketed the sky. My breath was cloudlike in itself, hovering before my face as I charged to where I’d laid the Trefoil the night before.
Now, realize that it was stupid of me to keep going when I noticed my trap was gone. One of the two-by-fours that held up the ceiling of the box was left in the no-longer bare patch of clover, covered in tooth marks too small to be human and too sharp to be natural. A door had been broken across the fence like it had been thrown.
I don’t know when it was that I broke down and started to cry. I was seven, I was proud of the little machine that I’d built. My mom’s gold ring was gone, too, and I had promised her that it wouldn’t go missing.
A small hand laid itself on my shoulder. I jumped. The arm led to a built little man wearing a tattered green military jacket that fit him like a trenchcoat. His shoes looked too large for his body, but his toes hung out the open ends and squirmed violently on the ground. Legs like small saplings held up a massive torso, corded and laced with muscle.
But I will never forget its head. A sickly pair of beady green eyes peered at me from sockets embedded with plantlike veins. His jaw distended grossly down through his thinning red beard, with the chin ending in a spike halfway to his chest. And the mouth–filled with the sharpest, cruellest piranha teeth and coated in yellow film.
It stared at me. I stared back. My parents wouldn’t wake up for another hour, and I didn’t think they would like what they would find if the creature got angry. Looking for an an escape route, I subtly scanned the yard in my peripheral vision. It was dark, and I was wearing dark pajamas–could I hide in the bushes? No, it was standing too close to run. Hit it with something? There was a shovel behind me that my dad used, but it was too heavy for me to lift. So I just stood and tried not to pass out under its disconcerting glare.
All of a sudden, it started moving. A slow limping crawl on all fours, its hands and feet pushing it asymmetrically across the yard. It had a pouch on one side of its body which seemed to glow with pyrite and golden jewelry hanging out the side. I broke my stare and reached out slowly to grab the pouch–after all, kids and leprechauns both like shining gold–and that was my second mistake.
The creature’s pupils went wide and it grabbed my hand. Its awful teeth snapped out of its jaw and sunk deep into my arm. I cried out and almost fell to the ground, but it held on and ripped its teeth through my flesh. Blood ran down its too-long chin and spilled onto the clover below, staining the earth. I went limp, and it released my injured arm, its teeth sliding back into its mouth with a muted pop. I watched in a haze as it took the scattered pieces of my trap and reassembled them, twisting the wood with its bare hands until the Trefoil was whole once more. It dragged me into the center and activated the springs, the three heavy doors hitting and bruising my legs and arms. I let out a weak whine, too far gone to feel anything anymore.
But just before I passed out, I made one final mistake–I grabbed for the purse again. And this time I caught it. The worn leather came away easily in my broken hands, gold spilling out onto the ground. The creature let out a howl of rage, and perhaps pain, and started to beat on me with its fists. There was a start from the yard across the street, and lights flew on and dogs started barking. The creature looked up in fear as the lights of my own house lit up, and glared down at my tear-streaked face.
Its lips parted, bloodstained teeth grinning down at me like old enemies.
“A good game,” it spoke in a rasping voice that protested being used, “and an admirable trap.”
The lights in my house flew on and it scampered off into the bushes and the night beyond. My parents ran out just as I lapsed into unconsciousness.