I’m writing this now because I don’t know when I’ll get another chance. I don’t want to tell people face to face, because it’s humiliating enough for me to know what they think of me, because of where I’m going. You see, I’m going to spend the rest of my life in sterile, cold, lonely prison cell.
Here’s what happened. For the last two years, I’ve had hard times. I’ve had a shaky employment history. That makes it really hard to get the next job. In turn, that then makes it easy to worry about where to get the next paycheck. That, in turn, makes it very easy to worry about where to find a cardboard box to sleep in.
If wishes were fishes, there would be no room left in the river. I would wish for so many things in those days. I wished for a stable job. I wished for a cure for my depression that didn’t involve me tearing hundreds of dollars from my already meager pay, just to pay for placebos and Gandhi-esque absolutes. So, all I have ever gotten from my post-high school life was a lot of holes in my heart, and my pockets.
Wishes do not come true, or so it seemed. On my pay rate, I could not afford any of the luxuries or comforts in which one may forget their sorrows, such as video games, friends, evenings at the local bars diving into local brews. What I could afford to do was walk. I lived on “that” side of the railroad tracks in town, just on the edge of the woods.
It was a nice time of year. We’d had a lot of rain in the area, and everything was green as could be, and a cool breeze combated the heat of the afternoon like a refreshing drink of ice water. I would walk the nameless paths where, if you wanted to, one could become blissfully lost. There are paths for everyone: the hardcore climber, the lazy looper, the brisk slope. The last one was my favorite. It was enough physical exertion to keep my mind off the pile of horse pies I called an existence, but little enough that I could easily make it back to my “hovel”.
Looking back on it now, I must’ve walked that path a thousand times. It never got old. The air would always taste fresh, the breeze would feel clean, and the sunlight poking through the leaves felt pure. It was a place to cleanse the soul. I knew the place so well, every log that would offer a place to rest, every stone, the creek of crystalline water.
So, you can imagine my surprise when I noticed just how out of place it all seemed, that one fateful day...
I was on another walk, about two months ago. I went earlier in the day, planning to walk further than normal, the one medicine I knew that really worked. I brought a bottle of water, wore my jeans and jacket, and my hat was pulled over my eyes. I felt that the air had a mild bite to it, fall was coming up quick.
As I walked, I thought about how nice it would be to walk this trail in the fall, when the aspens turn to gold. Nature is wealthy, and generous too; look at all it shares with us and how much we take. I was about halfway through my walk, and thinking about how I could go blind and still know my way around the trail when I saw something I must have missed, which I thought was impossible.
There were these two boulders that seemed to form a wall in this gorge, like a gate diverting the path elsewhere. It was just a place you’d run into and go another way. But as I rounded the turn, my eyes fell on a little gap in the rocks.
It was about two feet tall and maybe two-and-a-half wide; small, but too large to not notice. I walked up to it, and I immediately thought of Alice and Wonderland, the hole that the White Rabbit runs into at the beginning. Funny, “down the rabbit hole”, indeed. If only I had known.
I was intrigued; this was like being a kid again, the thought of becoming a great explorer, if only in my own mind. I took into account the size of the hole and stooped down to look into it. There was light at the other end, and the “tunnel” was only about a dozen feet along. So, murmuring “I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date,” I got on my hands and knees to crawl through.
It went easily, and I stood up at the other end, somewhat surprised at what I had found. There before me was a rocky canyon, only about twenty feet wide, with rich, green moss growing everywhere. I was impressed at my discovery and walked into it. It got deeper and twisted like a passageway in the Paris Catacombs, but it never went underground.
Just when I thought that I had made the greatest discovery ever, I rounded a bend and nearly dropped a brick from my underpants.
I had come into… I guess what you could call nature’s Cul-de-sac, a circular pit, with a dripping waterfall at the end, and a pool in the middle. None of these beauties were what I saw at first, though. I was riveted on the strangest creature I had ever seen in my life.
It was sitting on a rock slab by the pool, its feet dangling into the cool water. For the tiniest split of a second, I thought it was a human, perhaps a child, but my stare proved me wrong.
It did have a vaguely human shape, and had a thin build, almost a stick figure; it had a gray beard that came down to its waist. Its ears were huge, and it had a long nose and fingers like taper candles. The skin was white as wax and wrinkly. The best description was a mix of a shriveled old man and Pinocchio.
It also resembled a human because it wore clothes. They were once green, but so faded it was some drab color, and it had a long pointed cap on its head, worn and wrinkled, and a cracked, black leather belt around a pencil-thin gut.
I thought that he… that “it” had not noticed me, but the moment I tried to freeze in place, it slowly turned its head to face me. That moment was when I was sure it wasn’t human just because of those eyes. They glowed green as poison from under bushy gray eyebrows, like emeralds in a spotlight.
My terror must have looked amusing because, somewhere above that beard, a tiny pair of cracked lips curled into a mischievous grin of pointy, yellowed teeth. The grin someone gets when they know something you don’t. I heard it speak in a reedy but clear voice.
“My, my, my. Ye found me at last.”
It was still taking all of my concentration not to pee my pants, so I could say nothing. It scratched its chin with its bony fingers and hopped to its feet.
“Don’t worry. boyo. Plenty of folks find themselves where ye are.”
I finally gulped down the stone in my throat to utter a question. “Where is here?”
“Ah, the downside of the hill of life, of course. Difficulty. Problems. In yer instance, money. That marvelous, shiny stuff that causes most, if not all human problems.”
“Human? Then... what does that make you?” I asked sheepishly.
The bizarre little thing twirled on its bare feet, its arms spread out like an exuberant girl showing off a new dress. “Well, I can tell ye, boyo, ye lads and lasses got the look all wrong. Red hair, green jacket with shiny brass buttons, shamrocks, and all that rot.”
The once beloved image of a short, red-haired, jolly little man in green clothes clashed in my mind, and now brought only revulsion, even compared to this ghastly looking imp. “A leprechaun?” The word sounded ridiculous, even in that moment.
The creature clapped its hands excitedly and jigged about making shrill noises. “Oh, penny for the smart one there, bright lil’ lad, aren't you? Bright as mud!”
I was not about to be mocked by the Irish version of a Jigsaw doll, so I clenched my fist. “What the hell do you want, you… you…”
“Ye can say it, I’ve heard it all by now. ‘Tis music to me ears. Ye long-legs are not as good with insults as ye used to be.” It spoke dreamily, as if not talking to me at all, and it stared off into nothing. I was about to speak when it continued in its screechy but dreamy voice. “Listen here, spindle shanks. What if I were to tell ye that I can fix yer woes?”
“Say what?” I asked stupidly.
“Ye’d like to be kept off the streets, eatin' the rats and roaches, ye’d like the comfort of a home to the misery of living under a tarp, eh?”
“How would you know that?” I felt slightly violated to know that somehow, some way, this odd creature put me at a disadvantage, that it had been watching me somehow.
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t, and it doesn’t even matter how I know. What matters is that I can help ye with yer problems. I can help ye with yer finances. I can keep ye from sleeping with some mangy stray mutt in some alleyway.”
I don’t deny that I was tempted, my need for answers dampened by this tantalizing offer. But somehow, that little cricket in my head still remembered that all this was very wrong. “What’s it gonna cost me?”
It gasped dramatically and clasped its bony hands over its chest. “Oh, dear, my 'reputation' precedes me” the Leprechaun leered. It then dropped the theatrics and looked very solemn. “Listen, boyo. There is NOTHIN' ye have that I could possibly want. Not a thing, even if ye were a king, I have it all, and more. All that ye need do is accept.”
I had read enough online stories in my spare time to instill some fear in me of these backwater deals. “What do you want, sign my name in blood? Sell you my soul?”
It comically began slapping its forehead with its palm, rolling its eyes. “Tis like talking to a bloody rock in here, innit? I don’t want nothin’ at all! In fact, ye don't even need to do anythin', except say yes or no. Once that happens, ye'll never even see me again. So, I’ll ask ye one more time. Do ye want to forget your worries about money? Don’t ye want to live in ease? Simply answer me… yes, or no.”
I don’t know how long I stood there, silently thinking. It must not have been long enough. No matter what this creature was, I did need money. I did need ease. I needed relief from the hell I had been living for so long. So, I looked it dead in the eyes and spoke simply, but clearly, the one word that ruined my life.
The withered little Leprechaun giggled, clapping its hands again, and the grin on its face stretched even wider. Quick as a flash, it lunged to within short range of me, until it was looking up at me from at my feet. It looked even fouler from so close, but when it extended its tapering hand, I shook it without a thought. Its skin was cold, clammy, but the grip was strong as iron.
The next thing I knew, I was standing back at the turn in the trail, my back against the stones. The sunlight hurt my eyes as if I had just come out of the strangest dream in my life. Wishful thinking, looking back on it now. I turned to the rocks, only to find that the hole was gone.
I went home immediately, surprisingly refreshed by this break in banality. I went straight to sleep, almost convinced that I had imagined the whole thing. When I woke up the next day, I thought that perhaps I was mad.
I had little time to think since I had just woken to an alarm. I swung my legs down to head out the door as if all were normal. My foot connected with something, and, completely unprepared, I flew sprawling to the floor. Stars filled my vision, and I rolled onto my back rubbing my bruised jaw. As I sat up, the curses on my breath froze when I saw what I had fallen over.
A wooden chest the size of a little red wagon was sitting dead center on the rug. It looked very old, the wood starting to warp, the iron bindings rusted, and a creaky padlock securing it shut. Taking a shovel from the nearest neighbor’s yard, I broke the lock, and opened it to the most jaw-dropping sight I had ever seen, a sight that now fills me with dread.
The box was filled to the brim with gold; gold coins, gold bullion, gold jewelry. I must have sat there for several minutes, still as stone before I screamed for joy, dipping my hands into the treasure like life-giving water, flinging it about the place, burying my face in it, being a proper fool.
Days later, I had made plans to start pawning the better stuff for cash, so I started to sort it all out into boxes I grabbed from behind the local booze store. I looked and pawed each one, thinking of the golden aspens outside, and of the path. Gee, how short-lived joy can be.
See, I had gone through about two-thirds of the box, having sorted and stored this part of the findings and sold some of them, when I came across a gold plate. There was something on it, this brownish stain that looked almost like rust. I wanted it to look nice when I would sell it, so I made to clean it off when I smelled it. It smelled like when you have a nosebleed. A sinking feeling told me that I knew what it was. Blood.
I looked at some of the other, more buried pieces. Some of them had blood on them too, and I was surprised. That’s when I found the knife at the bottom. It was not made of gold at all, in fact, it was a four-inch switchblade. One that I had once owned, but had lost weeks ago. The knife with my fingerprints on the handle, and the blood of three people on the blade.
The next day, when I was trying to plan on what to do, a S.W.A.T. team kicked down my door and dragged me to jail in handcuffs. It all happened so fast I said nothing in my own defense. However, in the past few weeks, things became all too clear. I had been connected to the murders of three different wealthy people who collected gold items, all of them within my home state. No one had even seen who had broken in and killed them, but the evidence was overwhelming. Each had been stabbed to death, their stolen gold now had my fingerprints all over it, and it was all too clear that I would have had a clear motive: I needed the money.
I didn’t even try to defend myself. How could I have? The evidence was all against me. And what was I going to tell them? What would I say to them, about what I had met in that forest? To be honest, I’m gonna be in here a long time, and I’d like to keep a shred of my dignity and sanity. I prefer a state prison to a mental institution. I am writing this with a pen after all, not a crayon.
The law of conversion of mass says that matter cannot be created or destroyed. I realize now that I was a fool. Magic does not exist, and never will. Everything has to come from somewhere. I just didn’t think of where the gold came from… or who it had come from.
Written by Evan.dollarhide