From the author: A story of family. Maybe a bit creepy (this is me getting defensive but I do write occasionally creepy themes.) Originally published in Every Day Fiction for the Saint Patrick's Day special on March 17, 2013.
Let me tell you a story, Brigit, one I’ve never shared before. The TSA line is long but you have hours before your flight to Ireland.
Closed doors are forbidden doors. The door to Gran’s room was always firmly shut and she frequently gave me stern warnings.
“Dinnae go in there,” she’d say, her honest brogue deepened for the occasion.
Twelve years old has a way of ignoring danger. Or perhaps it was just testing: if I open the door, will boojums snatch the hair from my head? Will my shoes melt? Would fairies captured in the burled wood of the door scream if I so much as pushed it ajar?
Of course not. Nothing screamed but a hinge in need of oil. Not enough to wake Gran snoozing downstairs with her glasses slipping down her nose.
The air smelled of her perfume, fragranced powder, and something darker, metallic. The room itself was dim and comforting.
Pictures of President Kennedy and the Pope hung over her bed. She was a rebel with a sly collection of Will and Ariel Durant’s History on the bookshelves. I wanted to hold one of the books.
So I pulled on it. Instead of falling into my hand it tilted forward with five of its brothers and the wall swung open. A secret room!
I squeezed behind the wall. What little light there was glinted on metal. On coins. Golden coins. Silver coins. Copper.
I reached for them. A voice said, “Stop, child. Tis trouble ye dinnae want.”
I jumped like a poked frog but managed not to shriek. Wouldn’t do to wake Gran.
A little man sat on a plump sack. He wore a red velveteen jacket, lace at his cuffs, and leather shoes dyed green and stamped with crossroads designs. A feathered hat rested on his long ginger curls. But what I saw most clearly was the braid of woman’s hair around his neck. His skin underneath that braid burned red. The braid led to an iron ring set in the wall.
I recognized Gran’s hair, still mostly red but shot through with silver.
“Take this off me, girl,” he said, “and I’ll make you rich. Release me and I’ll share a secret with you. Set me free, girl, and I’ll owe you. I promise. My word as king.”
I didn’t believe him for a second. Gran put him in here for a reason. I turned to shut the bookcase and go confess my discovery to Gran.
She was already there, standing in the bookshelf doorway, her greying hair loose of its bun, her glasses hanging from a chain. Her eyes boiled with fury but her anger was not directed at me. A man behind her twisted her arm and held a gun to her side.
“I didn’t believe it,” he said, “but look at all that money!”
Gran started to speak but the man shoved the gun’s muzzle deeper into her side.
“Not a word. You, girl, come out here and sit by your granny and you’ll be fine. Come on out now.”
I didn’t move. I was frozen to the spot.
The man sighed and smacked Gran across the forehead with his gun. She crumpled at his feet.
“Now look what you’ve made me do,” he said. He stepped into the closet.
I stepped backwards until I reached the king.
“My name’s Cannath!” the king whispered. “Say it, child, for all you’re worth! Cannath!”
“Cannath!” I screamed.
The braid burned away. The king pointed at the gunman and he burned away too. I don’t know where to. He grinned at me and put a finger against his lips — “Whst!” — and then he disappeared.
The coins disappeared with him.
Gran was already rousing, the lump on her forehead egg-sized and purple. She glared into the empty room. “Oh aye, conniving leprechaun,” she said. “Set you free and you take your gold with you.”
The room wasn’t entirely empty. A coin glinted at my feet. I snatched it up.
Gran hadn’t seen. “Off to bed, girl.” She closed her door firmly behind me.
That night, as I sat in bed reading some fabulous comic book, a strange thing happened. Harps thrummed and fireworks sparkled and finally the king snapped into my room.
His clothes were refreshed and his hair groomed. He sprawled on my rug and whistled.
“I’ve lost my coin,” he said. “I don’t suppose you’ve seen it, girl?”
I’d kept it in my palm for hours, marveling at the soft texture and odd words carved into its face. “It’s not even silver,” I said. I held it out to him.
He sighed. “Giving it back, of your own free will? Do you even know what it is?”
“It’s not mine,” I said. “And you want it back. Here, take it.”
He shoved his hands into his pockets. “It’ll return when it’s ready. And I’ll just stay a while, waiting for it.”
So he stayed. He was a pest at first, then a friend. And eventually, a lover. We fought it. You can be sure Gran fought it. But there you go. He spent magic to stay. He spent magic to change. And he spent magic to keep us.
He needs help to go home, Brigit. Tonight. He’s been here too long. He’s spent.
“I thought you were going to tell me how you met Dad,” Brigit said.
I held out a coin. Not gold but special nonetheless. I whispered his name.
Cannath appeared, the handsome man he’d become for me, all six foot of him, his blue eyes sparkling. “Have you told her?”
“Weren’t you listening?” I said. I slipped my arm around him. He placed a kiss on my nose.
“Dad?” Brigit said. “…is a leprechaun?”
I smiled. “Who do you think paid for your education? Me, on an admin’s salary?”
I hugged her again. Then I waved until they disappeared behind the TSA lines, my Cannath and our Brigit.