Wish me a wish
by Tony Noland
I'm going to tell you a true story. Once upon a time, not so very long ago, perhaps ten years, perhaps twenty, perhaps more, a leprechaun became trapped beneath a fallen oak. Now I know you're thinking that this must be a fairy tale, what with a stuck leprechaun. Everyone knows that any of the Folk can crouch unseen behind the smallest toadstool, or slip unheard through the narrowest chimney crack. And so would this leprechaun have winked himself out of his dilemma, were it not for the thick vines of mistletoe that wrapped the trunk around. There's no magic on earth can overcome the disabling power of mistletoe, not even the dance magic of the Folk. So there the little man was, pinned by his ankles.
Oh, for all the good it did him, he cried out his little "Help, help!", that is, after he'd cursed and fussed awhile, trying to get free on his own. Proud as all leprechauns are, he was loathe to betray his distress to one of his kin or kind. An uncharitable person might have given a laugh to see the little man struggling to free himself, trying to dance up a spell with both feet pinned hard to the ground. After a bit he was still and sorry for himself, but yet unwilling to call out.
Still and all, after three days under the oak, he was out of tobacco and developing a powerful thirst. At last, it was "Help, help!", cried he, and for answer came only the silence of the forest earth and the foolishness of sparrows and squirrels. For a day and a night he called and cried until his voice fell still in his parched throat. It was another two days beyond that when the human can upon him.
It's only the foolishness of those who don't know any better to say that you can't see a leprechaun except by the light of the full moon. You can see any of the Folk in broad daylight, if they choose to be seen, for some reason, or if, as was the case with our friend, they are too weak to hide. In the light of day they look just as you might think they would, though perhaps not so thick around the middle. Also, beards went out of fashion among the Folk some generations ago, so you'll not be surprised to hear that, although our friend wore his hair fashionably long, he was bare of chin whiskers. Thus was the sight as greeted the eyes of the human, and thus the vision as what he contemplated for a good long while.
After he'd completed his contemplations, for such scenes as this are not likely to occur more than once in any human's life, he tried to shift the oak. A dozen strong men in the prime of life and health might have managed it, but one man alone could do nothing solely with the strength of arms. Fortunately for our trapped little friend, the human was a native Irishman, and therefore clever and resourceful as well as witty and a fair dancer, all such native talents being universal among his kin and kind.
Round about him he cast for a stout branch and a large stone. These he arranged just so, and, using the full weight of his body on the long lever, wedged up the trunk enough to slip a smaller stone beneath. Inchwise, lift by lift, the human worked the trunk up and up, kicking his smaller stones beneath until the gap was large enough to permit the withdrawal of the leprechaun, said withdrawal done by the collar of his coat.
For an hour or more, the human tipped water from his own supply, first onto the lips of the little man, then down his throat, giving him the balance of that bottle and the other one besides. As a nurse with a sick man did he share his water, and as one friend with another did he share his chocolate (though it was Dutch) as well as his tobacco (though it was American).
When the leprechaun was quite recovered from his ordeal, which, given plenty of water, chocolate and tobacco, was about as quickly as you might imagine, he set about to discharge his debt to the Irishman. A wish he offered and a wish he insisted the human take and use, despite protestations that no debt was incurred for "individualized humanitarian aid", the Irishman's queer way of describing his Christian charity. Finally, after a long while of offering and declining and insisting and such like and so forth, the human agreed to make a wish. Being an Irishman, as I said, he was clever and resourceful, witty and a fair dancer, but, being a young and idealistic Irishman, he was not nearly wise enough to know what to do with a wish. His heart full of beneficence, he wished that his country and his countrymen would all rise in the world and grow wealthy.
The leprechaun, however grateful though he was for his rescue, was also deathly tired from his ordeal and, I'm sorry to say, more than a bit irritated with the human for the haggling over how he should discharge his debt of honor. Had he been in a better mood, he might have granted the wish in a different manner, but perhaps not. The Folk are a tricky lot to deal with. With a wave of his hand and a few dancing steps on his sore, sore feet, the leprechaun cast the spell to make the human's wish come true. Then, with a bow that was a trifle more abrupt than it need have been, he vanished, leaving the human alone in the remote woodlands.
Days and months and years went by. The Irish, who had had centuries to learn how to be poor with dignity and grace, and in fact made the finest poor men in the world, suddenly had to learn how to be first comfortable, then wealthy. The Green Tiger was abroad in the world, and the Ireland in the days of the little man's magical wealth was a place unrecognizable to the grannies and graybeards, clucking their tongues and shaking their heads over their tea and biscuits.
Then, as it always does and always will after one season or several, the leprechaun gold vanished. The Irish, who had had only a few years to learn how to be rich, had to learn how to be poor again, and that's a lesson that's harder to learn the second time around.
So there's my story, as true as the grass is green, with the evidence of your own eyes to tell you that it's so. Let that be a lesson to you, my children. When a leprechaun offers you a wish, ask for wine or whisky, ask for a sunny day or a good meal or a good night's sleep, but never, ever, ever ask for gold.
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