Ryan opened his eyes. His hands were now locked about the throat of a man, dressed all in green and smaller than he was. His grip started to loosen in surprise, but he remembered more of Great Granpa’s words.
Once you have a hold of him, never let go until he agrees to your demands. Just speak those demands carefully, as leprechauns are vindictive, and they hate to lose!
Ryan bore down on the little man. “I’m not letting you go until you agree to my wish! Do you agree?”
“I can’t agree until I know what yer askin’! I need to know what yer askin’!”
Ryan had sifted through all of Great Granpa’s stories of people tricked out of the leprechaun’s gold, or trapped with it—even crushed beneath it. In preparation for today, he had tried to figure out where each of them had gone wrong . . . and he thought he had worked out the perfect words.
“Give me access to your gold, safely, let me take what I can, and then let me leave safely, with no retaliation from you or any of your kind. Do you agree?”
The leprechaun slumped in his grip. “It seems I have no choice. I agree to yer terms, sir.”
As Ryan released his hold, the world seemed to dissolve and then re-form. He found himself standing in an underground tunnel, before a closed wooden door set into the earth-and-stone wall.
The leprechaun pulled the door open, doffed his hat, and swept into a courtly bow. His voice was jolly, but his eyes glittered as he said “Welcome to the End of the Rainbow, young sir!”
Ryan walked into a room with not one pot of gold, but what looked like hundreds! Torches burned in wall brackets about the room, and Ryan wandered through the flickering light filling his pockets and a small knapsack.
When he had as much as he could carry, he returned to the door to find the leprechaun gone. He replayed the words of his demand in his head and realized that though he had asked for safe passage, both in and out, he’d said nothing about being brought home.
Oh well, he thought, feeling the weight of his knapsack and his bulging pockets. With what I have here, I’m sure I can get home.
He walked through the door and to the other end of the tunnel. It turned out to be a cave in a hillside covered with the greenest grass Ryan had ever seen! He walked up and over the hill to find a small town not far away.
“Who are ye?”
The voice startled him, and the accent was thick, and hard to understand. It came from a small boy, maybe seven years old, who was staring at him with wide blue eyes.
“I’m Ryan. Who are you? And where am I?”
The boy squinted at him. “I kinna unnerstand yer werds! Kin ya not speak clear?”
An Irish accent? He was in Ireland! Well, he had asked to be brought to the gold.
“Leprechaun! Do you understand leprechaun?”
The boy’s eyes widened further, and he took Ryan by the arm, pulling him toward the nearby town. “I’ll teke you to the vallage. Come!”
They entered the village and were immediately surrounded by people. His guide and the crowd conversed so rapidly Ryan couldn’t keep track through the accent, but he did make out the word leprechaun a few times.
Eyes were turned his way, some round with surprise, others narrowed in what looked like suspicion. A man edged out of the group to take hold of the zipper on the front of Ryan’s sweatshirt. He zipped it down, then up. His eyes grew even wider, and he retreated to the crowd. Someone else came out of the throng to touch his wristwatch with an inquisitive forefinger. The watch chose that moment to beep the hour, and with a tiny “Eeep!” the man scuttled away.
“What’s going on? Where am I?”
No one answered Ryan, and he started to look closely at the people for the first time. He saw no zippers, or even any buttons; just these wooden toggle-thingies. He looked around the town and noticed that there were no cars in sight. No street lights. Not even telephone poles.
“Where am I?” he shouted.
A woman ran through the crowd, dark hair flying from beneath a kerchief, shouting. “Ryan O’Meara, you come here!”
Stunned at hearing his name from the lips of this stranger, Ryan opened his mouth to ask who she was, and if she could help him—then realized she wasn’t even looking his way. Darting around the last of the intervening people, the woman snatched up Ryan’s little guide and spirited him away, the boy throwing frightened glances back at Ryan over the woman’s shoulder . . . glances made with suddenly familiar bright blue eyes.
He looked about the village in confusion as an old woman touched his nylon knapsack, tugging roughly at the zipper and Velcro fasteners. She poked at his digital watch as well, and when the numbers lit up she too leaped back with a little scream. She scrambled backward, one finger thrust toward him in accusation.
“Tha Devil! He’s from Satan! From Satan hisself!”
A voice came to him, clear in his ear, though he couldn’t see the speaker. “You need to be more careful, lad.”
Ryan looked about and spotted a large black cat watching him from its perch on a fence. Its green eyes glittered at him in a familiar fashion, and he could swear it was smiling.
“You made me promise not to hurt you,” the voice continued. “And you made me promise to take you to my treasure and then to let you go.”
Ryan heard a brief, cold laugh that had nothing to do with humor.
“But, lad, you never specified when!”
The first stone struck Ryan in the chest.