by Meg Grimm, the Story Spinner
Once in a small hamlet there lived a quiet girl called Mousy.
She had been given the name by other children because she rarely made more than a peep and always ran home instead of joining in their games. The children thought she did not mind the name. The boys even thought it was cute. But she did mind.
One afternoon, Mousy sat at the window of the cottage where she lived. It had been raining for some time. When the sun finally emerged, she went outside before the last misty raindrops ceased to fall.
There! She knew it would be there.
The rainbow was high and bright with no part hidden by clouds. In fact, both ends of the bow fell into the forest. She could see that one had landed a great way off, but the one nearest the village did not seem far at all.
Mousy knew she did not have much time. She ran as fast as her legs would take her. Perhaps she would be the first person in the village to discover a pot of gold. Everyone would be impressed. Perhaps they would not call her Mousy.
The girl was familiar with the wood and had a good sense of direction. She knew right where to go.
She soon found the rainbow shining down through the trees with the most brilliant colors she had ever seen. It transformed the little hollow into a prism of red and yellow, green and blue, especially the bush upon which it landed. The leaves shimmered as though powdered with faerie dust.
With glee, the girl pushed away branches and beheld a small crock filled with gold coins. No sooner did she reach out to take one than a voice startled her.
“I thought you would come.”
A stout, little man wearing green trousers and puffing on a long clay pipe stood beside the crock. He gazed at her from under a tricorn hat. As she stared at him, he leaned forward, a mischievous smile on his thin lips, and he leaned so far that he suddenly fell forward at her feet. Before she knew it, the man’s boots were in the air, and he was balanced on his head. He spun around once like a strange top.
“Take a coin, Susannah!” He said and laughed. “Such a shame they call you that dastardly name, Mousy. Your name is much better.”
And so, although she thought it curious that he knew her, she liked this leprechaun, and she took a handful of coins.
No sooner had she picked them up than the leprechaun jumped back to his feet. He tossed his pipe away.
“Pat your head and rub your belly!” he said.
Immediately, Mousy’s hand flung the coins away as she felt herself obey the command exactly.
She gasped. “What’s happening?”
“Honk like a goose!” said the imp.
A honking sound gurgled up from her throat and spilled from her mouth.
Before Mousy could stop him, the little man shouted many more commands, and she obeyed them all.
Gasping for breath, she finally ran at the leprechaun and clasped a hand over his mouth.
“Why is this happening?” she demanded.
He laughed rascally under her hand. She jerked away and wiped spittle from her palm with her apron. The leprechaun laughed so hard he fell forward again and ended up back on his head, spinning slowly.
“Is it not obvious? You took the coins. Now you do as I say.”
“But you’re a leprechaun,” she protested.
“Yes, and you hide your gold at the end of the rainbow. And if I find it, I get to keep it, and you have to do what I say.”
This time when he spun to face her, his grin was teethier, more sinister. “Me? I hate rainbows. You’re the first one who came looking for the end of a rainbow in fifty years. I knew you would come.”
She took a step away. “What’s the point of it then?”
“I am taking you for payment,” he said simply. At this, he fell toward her again and righted himself.
Her breath caught. The leprechaun stood so close that he could reach out and grab her legs, but he was small enough that he could not be very strong. Perhaps she could get away from him. But not if he commanded her to go with him.
The leprechaun's lips curled into a smirk as though he read her thoughts. He was not giving her commands right now though. Not as long as he was talking.
“Payment for what?” she asked.
“The right to live in the land, of course.”
She took a step back, but he followed her.
“Everyone has a right to live in the land,” she said.
He shook his head. “Not everyone.”
“But why me?”
Instantly, Mousy's knees buckled, and she came face to face with the leprechaun. She could see now that his skin was old and poked. The whites of his eyes were splintered with red veins.
“So that one of us does not have to be taken, of course,” he told her. He grinned with a smile that reached far across his cheeks, but his gaze was filled with scorn. “I collect humans that are lured by riches. I have done it for thousands of years. Now I will take you.”
“But you’re a shoe-maker!”
He chuckled. “A one-shoe-maker.”
“What is that?”
“Where is the other shoe?”
“I don’t know. Where is the other shoe?”
“I can only find one shoe, so I make one shoe, to be the other shoe, that I find.”
She heaved a little sigh. “I suppose that makes sense.”
He regarded her. “You are pleasant as well as fair. He will be pleased. Come-”
“But I am not pleasant at all!” she cried. What else could she say? She supposed the truth was as good as anything. “I don’t talk to the other children. I only keep to myself. I’m not helpful. I don’t play games…”
The leprechaun's lips melted into a scowl. “Those things are true. What will happen if I bring you?”
She glanced around. “I suppose, I could try to play a game.”
“Would you?” He actually looked hopeful.
She stood up. When he still just stared up at her waiting, she said, “I would do it for you, but you have to play with me. I cannot play a game by myself.”
“Right. What is the game? I love games.” He fell backward into his upside-down position.
She tapped her chin with her finger. “It’s a mirror game,” she said. “I’m me, and you’re my mirror. You must do everything I do, and say what I say, and if you get one thing wrong, then I win. If you get everything right, I will be your mirror.”
He spun around once and jumped back to his feet. “I can play this mirror game,” he said.
“Of course, you can. Are you ready?”
She spoke evenly. “My name is Susannah. I live by the brook. I like to pick mulberries. I clean, and I cook.”
The imp repeated the verse without flaw.
“Ooo! My turn!” he said. “I am a wee folk, a crafty old cobbler. I make one shoe, not two, and then I’m a wobbler.”
Mousy also repeated these lines without a hitch.
“Let’s try something harder,” she suggested. “I’ll pretend to be you now.” She cleared her throat and tried to imitate his whimsical speech. “I’m a payment collector. No rainbows for me. Coin is the best snare; you must agree. But since you’re a mouse, dull, drifting and dumb, I’d better not risk it. Go away, you are free.”
The leprechaun's smile vanished. “You can’t trick me.”
She shrugged. “Of course not, but if you don’t do it, it means you’ve lost the game.”
He stared at her. His little chest began to heave, and his face flooded with color. “You… you… miserable little mouse. You’ll always be a mouse!”
“Maybe, but are you going to lose?”
The imp's face was bright red. He sputtered out the words to her sing-song verse and stomped away fuming. Just like that, he vanished into the trees.
Mousy’s eyes flashed to where the coins had scattered across the forest floor. They transformed into old leaves as the magic faded.
On her way home, Mousy came upon some children playing.
“Can I join you?” she asked.
“We are playing a game,” said one of the boys. He knew Mousy did not ever play games, but he hoped she would.
“I think I might be rather good at games after all,” she said.
And she was. Not long after, the children only knew her as Susannah.
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*In some beliefs, faeries are fallen angels, or demons. (The word “Faery” encompasses all folk of Faeryland.) Therefore, a core concept has arisen that Faery gentry are the vassals or subjects of Hell and its ruler. As such, they owe Satan regular rent payments (called the ‘teind’) for their right to “live in the land.” The currency of Hell is people. If the Faery folk do not produce new human souls, payment is taken from their own number. Tales exist of people being taken as payment, but they can be saved if they are able to escape before the payment is due the next morning.
Copyright by the author Meg Grimm.