Fanciful Oddities

The Invitation

The Invitation

The card sailed about in the wind. It looped and swirled, gliding with the gentle breeze, and finally fluttered to the ground at Penelope’s feet. She picked it up. It appeared to be a business card. Stamped on its front was the emblem of a green shamrock and leprechaun hat. The card glittered as if sprinkled with gold dust.

Her fingers tingled. Just to touch it lifted Penelope’s spirits as if by magic, which was nice since up to that moment she’d had a rotten day. She and Dustin had a terrible fight that morning over money, as usual. He’d left the house, slamming the door behind him. Her car wouldn’t start, so she’d had it towed to the mechanic, then rode the bus into town to run her errands.

She turned the card over. How odd. No words printed on either side. Still, Penelope tucked it away inside her pocket and continued inside the library. She returned her books and browsed for several others. As she stood in line to check the new books out, the gentleman in front of her smiled, tipped his hat and waved her on. “Please, after you.” Surprised and flattered, Penelope thanked him and stepped up to the desk.

Her heart sank when she saw the woman before her. She was her least favorite library employee. Penelope often wondered which the woman enjoyed more, hating her job or making the library patrons miserable, so she was taken aback when the woman greeted her with a smile, one of tobacco stained teeth, nevertheless a smile. Penelope diverted her attention from the hair growing from the mole on the woman’s chin.

“May I help you?” she asked in a voice which reminded Penelope of a grunting walrus.

“Why, yes, I’d like to check these out,and I believe I have some fines to pay for late returns.” Penelope braced to be scolded.

The woman took Penelope’s library card and tapped away on the keyboard. “Hmmm. No, I don’t see any late fees.” She winked as she hit the clear button. She checked out the new books and slid the card back to Penelope with a grin, at least Penelope assumed it was a grin. “You’re all set. Have a nice day.”

Puzzled, but delighted, Penelope thanked the woman and left the library, thinking it to be a much better day than it had started out to be. She climbed aboard the bus and settled for a seat in the rear. Penelope set the new books down beside her. She stared out the window at the world flashing by as thoughts swirled around in her mind.

She’d finished the last of her errands. Hopefully the car would be back from the shop tomorrow. She glanced at her watch, a feeling of dread crept over her. Dustin would beat her home. He would be hungry and grumpy. He wouldn’t care that she had to ride public transportation all day. Nor would he be thrilled that she only had time to warm leftovers. She leaned back against the seat and sighed.

He hadn’t always been this way. When they first married, he had dreams of a great career in music. But soon reality hit him smack in the face. One couldn’t pay a mortgage with unpublished compositions. He’d settled for a job in a music store and was passed over again and again at promotion time. He’d given up on writing music and on his dreams.

The bus turned a corner, and the library books slid across the seat. As Penelope restacked them, a glimmer caught her eye. Something peeked out from between the pages of one of the books; something that sparkled. She reached over, picked up the book and flipped it open. She gave a soft gasp and picked up the large coin that had been slipped between the pages.

It was no ordinary coin, not made of gold or silver or copper. It looked like crystal or possibly some precious stone. She held it up and turned it in the sunlight. The coin caught the rays and absorbed it like a prism, shooting out a rainbow of colors in every direction.

A prickling sensation stirred in her pocket. What in the world? She pulled out the little card and stared in fascination. Words were written on it now . . . written in a delicate font of swirling letters.

A Meeting

A meeting? With whom? Where? The bus reached her stop. She slid the card and coin back into her pocket, gathered her books and stepped down to the sidewalk. This was a peculiar day indeed.

When Penelope arrived home, she prepared herself for a fight with Dustin. She had her apologies ready. As she entered the house, soft romantic music floated from the stereo. The dining table held glowing candles, and the delicious aroma of an Italian meal filled the air.

“Dustin?” she called out.

He emerged from the kitchen wearing an apron, his sandy hair ruffled, his blue eyes smiling; tomato sauce smudged his cheek. He greeted her with a kiss. “Hello, my Love. Dinner is almost ready. The garage called. Did you take the bus all day?” She nodded, too stunned to speak. “You must be exhausted.”

He pulled out a chair and poured her a glass of iced tea, then sat down beside her. “I’m sorry I left in such a bad temper this morning. You didn’t deserve that.” He smiled. “But I’ve got great news. I’ve been promoted to senior manager. It will mean a raise in salary, twice what I’m making now.”

She threw her arms around him. “Oh, Dustin, that’s wonderful!” She wiped the sauce from his cheek and kissed it.

“And besides that, a new tune has been floating around in my head all day. I’m going to get it down on paper right after dinner.” Excitement shone in his eyes. It was the Dustin she used to know.

The oven buzzed. Dustin jumped to his feet and scrambled into the kitchen.

“Need any help?”

He poked his head out the door. “Nope. Everything’s under control.” He disappeared again and called out to her. “Oh, by the way, the car will be ready in a few days. No cost. It’s all under warranty.”

Warranty? she thought in amazement. The car was nine years old.

“They dropped by a loaner to use until then. Free of charge. It’s parked in the garage.”

Penelope stood up, crossed the room, and opened the door to the garage. Her mouth dropped open at the sight of the loaner. An elegant Rolls Royce sat parked inside. She closed the door and leaned her back against it, her mind numb. What was going on?

Dustin called from the kitchen. “Oh, did you see the mail? There’s a letter for you.”

Penelope spotted the mail sitting on the counter. She picked up the stack and sorted through it, then froze. In her hand she held a letter from Zany Publishing House. She’d sent off the manuscript of her book three months ago. Her fingers trembled as she peeled open the envelope. She unfolded the letter, and a piece of paper fluttered to the floor.

Penelope picked it up and gasped. It was a check. She’d never seen so many zeroes in a check before. Her eyes scoured the letter, catching phrases. “…accepted…advance royalty enclosed…anxiously anticipating your next manuscript…could you have it to us as soon as possible?” She bit the inside of her cheek to be certain she wasn’t dreaming.

Dustin was delighted. He’d always believed in her, he said. Penelope pushed aside the memories of their arguments when he’d scoffed at her silly hope of becoming a writer.

Her head still in a wispy cloud of wonder, she showered and dressed for bed. She could hear Dustin’s humming from the kitchen as he finished the dishes. He’d refused to let her help. As she stroked the brush through her hair, she glanced at her jeans tossed across the bed. On an impulse, she pulled the little card from the pocket and caught her breath. More writing had appeared on the glittery card.

A Meeting
Wee People’s Pub
Tonight, 10 PM

This was a meeting she dare not miss. She glanced at the clock. 9:15. Penelope dragged out the Yellow Pages from the stand beside her bed. She’d never heard of the Wee People’s Pub, but sure enough, there it was. It stood out in bright green ink amidst the black print listings. Green ink?

Penelope dressed in her jeans and a cream colored sweater. She started to make an excuse to Dustin about needing to go out, but he just smiled and waved her along. “I’ll be working on my music. Take your time and have fun.” Penelope headed out the door and down the street.

A short time later, she stood before the little gold painted pub with a rainbow splashed over its threshold. Funny that the pub was in walking distance of her house, and she’d never noticed it before. She pushed through the double doors. The hypnotizing sound of flutes and fiddles greeted her. Musical notes danced through the air, and she followed them inside.

The air was filled with the sweet smell of pipe tobacco. Penelope glanced about the room in amazement. Tiny men and women leaned against the bar and gathered around the tables, smoking tiny pipes, laughing merrily, and holding glasses of foamy green liquid. A young wee girl approached her and smiled. “Miss Penelope, is it?” Penelope nodded. “You’re expected. Follow me, please.”

She obeyed, and followed the girl across the room, weaving between the tables, people nodding a greeting as she passed. Tucked away in the far back corner sat a table, and at the table, sat a little man. His eyes twinkled, he wore sparkling jewels on his fingers, a pierced earring that kept changing colors, and bright curly red hair sprouted from his head. His smile revealed a shiny gold tooth. He motioned her to join him.

“Ye’re kind to accept me invitation. Would ya care fer a drop of liquid refreshment?”

“No, thank you,” she said. From his pipe, smoke curled and swooped with a mind of its own. Penelope watched it, intrigued by its movements. Finally, she turned to her host. “May I ask, exactly who are you?”

He grinned. “A bright girl ya are. Ye get right to the point. I like that.” He blew a puff of smoke that split into three rings. “Me name’s Sean Patrick McDougal, and I’m in need of yer help.”

Penelope couldn’t imagine how she could be of help to this fascinating stranger.

“Have ye noticed a change in yer luck lately?”

Penelope’s eyes grew round. “Why…yes.”

“Ever since ye found the card?”

She nodded. “And the coin.”

His eyes flashed as he leaned forward with interest. “Ye found the coin already?”

Penelope nodded again, unsure of whether she should say more. He slapped the table and chuckled with glee. “I knew it! I knew ye had the gift. That’s why the card found its way to ya.”

“Gift? What do you mean?”

“Ye’re charmed. Probably a bit of leprechaun blood in yer family tree.”

Penelope just stared at the little man. She raised her eyebrows and said, “Is this a joke?” He simply took another puff of his pipe and chuckled.

Penelope watched the smoke bounce through the air. She couldn’t deny that her luck had changed since she found the card. But charmed?

“You said you need my help?”

“That I do. Did ye bring the coin?”

She pulled it from her pocket and held it out to him. Colors twirled through it like a rotating fan. It seemed to come alive in this place.

The wee man watched the coin with longing in his eyes, but made no move to touch it. “Good, good. Now take it home and put it in a safe place, then wait. Soon its mate will find ye, just like this one did.”

“I don’t understand…”

“Never ye mind. Just bring them both back to me. If ya do, ye’ll have good luck, but if ya don’t…” He shuddered. “Beware of the curse it brings.”

Her blood chilled at his words. As she tucked away the coin, a small glass of green liquid appeared before her.

She gave him a questioning look.

“Shamrock juice. Drink it, me dear. It’ll steady yer nerves. I know all this must be a bit of a shock to ya.”

Penelope picked it up and swallowed in one gulp. Its warmth trickled down to her toes. She sighed. Without another word, she left the pub and floated home on a cloud of contentment.

The next morning Dustin kissed her as he headed out the door to work. She busied herself around the house, then sat down at her computer and stared at the screen, watching the fish on her screensaver swim back and forth. She moved the mouse and opened the word processing program to a new page. Her mind was blank. The publisher was expecting another book from her soon. Could she do it?

She reached in her pocket and toyed with the leprechaun’s coin. Her fingertips tingled and suddenly, ideas began blossoming in her imagination. They popped up, one, then another, quickly forming the characters and plot to her new book. It was written in her mind before she placed her hands on the keyboard. She typed nonstop, soon lost in a world of make-believe. A few hours later, the book was done. In utter amazement she scrolled through each page—a bestseller for sure.

Energized, she decided to go for a walk. She strolled down her street and into the park nearby. The bench by the fountain was a favorite spot for park visitors, and she could rarely find an empty seat. But today, the bench was vacant. She pulled the coin from her pocket; it flashed in the bright daylight. She smiled. Of course the bench was empty for her today. Penelope sat down and looked up at the blue, cloudless sky, then took a deep breath, inhaling the sweet fragrance of the nearby lilacs.

Water shot up from the fountain and cascaded into the well below. A sparkle caught her eye. Penelope stood and approached the fountain, looking around before reaching into the water. She pulled out a coin—a special coin—the matching leprechaun coin. She caught her breath and remembered the words of the little man, “…its mate will find ye.”

She dropped it into her pocket with the other coin, and hurried home, locking the door behind her. Upstairs, alone in her room, she examined them at her desk. She held the coins close together; the rainbow of colors gleamed brighter than ever. She tapped the coins against each other and almost dropped them as a small leather bag appeared before her. She set down the coins and with trembling fingers picked up the bag and pulled it open. Dust. She pinched it and sprinkled it across her desk. Gold dust!

“What’s that?”

She jumped. Dustin stood in the doorway behind her. He crossed the room and examined the bag and its contents. His countenance changed as greed filled his eyes. “We’re rich!” He laughed a gleeful, selfish laugh. He seemed to forget her as he fondled the bag of gold dust. He picked up the coins and tapped them together—again and again. For hours she watched in horror as the demon greed possessed the man she loved. Finally, exhausted and covered in gold dust, he fell asleep across their bed, clutching a leather bag in each hand, a wicked smile painted on his face.

In careful silence, Penelope slid the coins back in her pocket and slipped out the door. She raced down the street, afraid to look back for fear Dustin would pursue her in a trail of gold dust. Breathless, she arrived at the Wee People’s Pub and pushed open the door. Mystical music greeted her once again, but the pub was empty—except for the little man in the corner who sat puffing on his pipe.

She crossed the room and reached into her pocket. The coins burned beneath her fingers. She tossed them on the table in front of him.

“Here are your coins. I want nothing more to do with them. They’re…my husband…the coins…”

“…are powerful.” He motioned her to sit down. “It’s the curse of greed. Ye were wise to return them. Any mortal who keeps them is destined for ruin.”

She cocked her head to one side. “But they didn’t have the same affect on me as they did on Dustin.”

He chuckled. “I bin trying to tell ya. Ye have leprechaun blood in yer veins.”

With a wave of his hand, a mug of the foamy green Shamrock juice appeared before her. Without waiting to be asked, she picked it up and took a sip, then another. Its smooth, sweet taste tickled her tongue. Anxiety seeped away and peaceful contentment rippled through her. She looked across the table through the haze of pipe smoke and smiled.

His eyes flickered with a touch of humor. “That’s better.” He picked up the coins and held them up in admiration. “Thank ye for returning me pot ‘o’ gold. They’re no good to me unless they’re together.”

Her eyes widened. “Your pot of gold?”

He nodded. “With these coins, I can produce unlimited gold. I won’t bore ye with the details, but a mischievous elf took off with ‘em, and I’ve been searching ever since. Lucky fer me I found a charmed person such as yerself.”

His words struck her. Charmed. She thought of the book she’d written that morning, remembering it was written by magic. The joyful feeling of accomplishment evaded her now. She had no doubt the book would be a hit, but the success felt empty.

“It weren’t just the magic of the coin, ye know.”

She raised her eyebrows.

“The book. Ye wrote it yerself. The coin only got ya started. You won’t need it any more.” He blew fluffy clouds of smoke which swirled about the room. “Ye have the gift to create.”

She twitched her lips to one side. “Because I’m charmed, you mean.”

He nodded. “That’s part of it, because that’s who ye are. Ya always been charmed; ya just didn’t know it.” His eyes twinkled.

She pondered this a moment. “So all the good luck?”

He smiled. “Well, the card—the coins—work like a magnet to good luck.”

“Is it gone now?”

“Ye’re still charmed, but it won’t be such a potent dose of luck. Yet since ye returned my pot o’ gold, I can grant ye a wish. Wish the luck to continue?”

She thought of the past few days. Sometimes it’s good to struggle. She shook her head. “No, thanks. I think I’ll make my own luck from here on.”

A broad grin stretched across his face. “Now ye’re talking like a true leprechaun.”

She laughed, then she frowned as a thought occurred to her. “What about Dustin?”

“When he awakes, the gold will be gone. He won’t remember, but will feel like he’s had a pint o’ whiskey the night before.” He chuckled and blew several puffs of smoke shaped like horseshoes. They galloped across the room and disappeared. “But traces of the luck will stay with him. He’ll be the ol’ Dustin who writes music, not the Dustin who lost his dreams.”

She smiled, pleased at the thought, and took another sip of the juice. “May I have some of this to take with me?”

His eyes held a question.

“For Dustin.  I think he’ll need it in the morning.”

The wee man laughed out loud and waved his hand again. A corked bottle of the green liquid appeared before her.

As she walked out into the night, she reached in her pocket and looked at the card once again. The old words were gone and new ones had appeared.

Thank ye

A sudden gust of wind whipped the card from her hand. She watched as it looped and swirled, soaring out of sight into the starry sky. She waved goodbye to the little card and with a lighter step, headed for home, clutching a bottle of Shamrock juice beneath her fingers.

 

The End