Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Story A Day - The Coin Collector

Continuing on with Storyaday.org's May writing challenge, here is a short story that I wrote last year. 

                                

In their small Iowa town, children start to go missing on their tenth birthday. The hot Irish girl across the street claims her creepy father, Mr. O'Darby, is a leprechaun who collects more than just gold coins, and 17-year-old Trent begins to fear for the safety of his brother, Ben, whose tenth birthday grows near.

 
 



The Coin Collector



By
Kristen Middleton
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author. 
Copyright ©2012 by Kristen Middleton
All rights reserved.
No part of this story may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without express written permission of the author.
“A child should be kept closest to the heart. Do not squander what is innocent to gratify that which is wicked.”

Chapter One
“Did you see that, Trent?” whispered my younger brother, Ben, as we stared into the darkness towards the old house across the street. “The weird light coming from his hands?”
We were kneeling in Brent’s bedroom with the binoculars, trying to get a better glimpse of the short, stocky man who’d just walked out of his garage for the fifth time. Now he was pacing back and forth, talking to himself and looking agitated.
“No,” I sighed. “And frankly, I’m really getting sick of spying on the neighbor, Ben. This is ridiculous.”
His eyes narrowed. “You don’t believe me, do you?”
I snorted. “What? That he’s some kind of goblin or boogieman?”
“Yes! I saw him disappear and then reappear a few minutes later. He had a black pot, too. I swear to God, there was a stack of bright gold coins inside.”
I groaned – nine year old boys and their wild imaginations. “Okay, Ben, that’s enough.” I stood up and walked over to the light switch. “You were obviously dreaming.”
“Wait,” he whispered loudly as he stared through the binoculars again. “Oh, my God, Trent. He did it again!”
I rushed over to the window. “What?”
“He vanished into thin air. He’s gone.”
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, he’s probably in the garage.”
“Why are the lights off then? Who walks around their garage in total darkness?”
Deciding to humor him, I grabbed the binoculars and waited. Even though I didn’t believe in Leprechauns, I had to admit that the neighbor across the street certainly looked like the kind in picture books, especially with his red beard, bulbous nose, and short, stubby legs. He also wore a lot of green.
“See anything?” asked Ben.
“No.”
“Just keep watching,” he said.
Ten minutes later, out of patience and feeling foolish, I stood back up and stretched my legs. “This is ridiculous. I don’t have time for this. In fact, I have a lot of homework that’s due tomorrow. You’re on your own, bud.”
He turned back towards the window. “Fine, but if something happens and he comes for me…”
“Ben, nobody is coming for you.”
The sound of the bedroom door creaking open made us both jump.
“What’s going on in here?” asked our mother, Mira, flicking on the lights.
Releasing my breath, I pointed to Ben, who looked like he’d just pissed his pants. “He thinks the neighbor across the street is some kind of Leprechaun or something.”
She raised her eyebrows. “A Leprechaun? Mr. O’Darby?”
“Yeah, mom!” he said, rushing to her side. “I saw him disappear into thin air and his hands, they were glowing!”
“Oh, Ben,” she smiled, putting an arm around him. “You’re letting your imagination run wild, again. You know there are no such things as Leprechauns.”
He pushed the dark hair out of his eyes. “But…”
She groaned and shook his shoulders, playfully. “No buts. It’s getting late and,” she wrinkled her nose, “you could use a shower. And there will be no more television before bedtime either, young man. Obviously some of the crap on television is warping your young, impressionable mind.”
“Fine. I’ll take a shower but I still think that guy is hiding something.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. By the way, Trent, we need to talk,” she said, turning to me.
“Why?” I asked, although I already had an idea of what it was. Parent-teacher conferences had been earlier today and I was slipping in both Math and History.
“In your room,” she said, snapping her fingers.
“Okay,” I answered.
She followed me down the hallway to my bedroom and then closed the door behind her. “Listen,” she said, leaning against the door. “We really need to talk.”
I sighed. “I know. School. I’ll try harder.”
She rubbed her forehead with the tips of her fingers and shook her head. “It’s not about school, although I’d appreciate it if you would try harder. I wasn’t very happy today. You’re supposed to be graduating this year, have you forgotten?”
“No. I haven’t, okay?” Why did parents have to be so freaken condescending? “I’ll bust my ass and try to raise my grades. Maybe even do some extra credit.”
She nodded. “Good.”
“So, what did you want to talk about?”
She bit the side of her lip. “I want you to keep an eye on your brother. Especially at night, when I have to work.”
“No problem. I already do that now.”
“Well, keep a closer eye on him.”
“What’s the big deal?” I asked.
“Listen, don’t repeat this to Ben but there were two missing children reported earlier today, in Barnet. A boy and a girl – both only ten years old.”
Our mother works in the local Sherriff’s Department as a dispatcher. 
“Who took them?” I asked. Barnet was the next town over, less than five miles away.
She shrugged. “That’s just it. Nobody really knows what happened.  Both of them left school, walking their separate ways, and nobody has heard from either of them since.”
“Nobody saw anything?”
She shook her head. “No, unfortunately. Both kids lived within walking distance of the school so they weren’t missed on any bus. The police have been searching the surrounding neighborhoods and wooded areas all evening.”
“What about the parents? Could they have…?”
I’d learned from my mother’s boyfriend, Matt, who’s a cop, that parents were usually the first suspects.
“Don’t know for sure. The parents all had alibis and appeared to be genuinely upset.”
I sat down on my bed. “Wow, that’s freaky.”
“Tell me about it. Anyway, I’m sure it’s all over the news right now.”
I grabbed the remote control for my television.
“Wait, finish your homework first. I’ll keep an eye on the news and let you know what I find out.”
“Okay.”
She picked up my dirty clothes hamper. “Just remember to keep an eye on your brother, okay?”
“I will.”
“Thanks, I appreciate it,” she said, and left the room.

Chapter Two
There hadn’t been any new information regarding the missing kids, and I’d all but forgotten about it until the next morning, when our mom pleaded with me to pick up Ben after school.
“I don’t want him walking home alone,” she said.
“Fine.”
“What’s the big deal?” asked Ben between bites of his Cocoa Pops. “I always walk with Steve and Jacob.” He turned to me. “Can you give them rides, too?”
“Yes, he can,” said mom, wrapping her dark brown hair into a ponytail, which made her look more like a college student than a woman of thirty-eight.
I groaned. “Seriously?”
Ben’s friends were slobs – always farting and picking their noses when they were over. Once I saw Steve eating a booger and almost hurled.
“It’s a good idea,” she said. “Don’t you agree?”
I knew I wasn’t going to win that argument so I just agreed.
“Thank you,” she said, kissing the top of my head. “Now, Ben, are you ready for school?”
“Almost,” he said and then stared at her in horror. “You’re not actually going to drive me to school now, are you?”
“Yes.”
He sighed. “Fine, drop me off in the back, though. I’ll never hear the end of it if one of the guys catches me getting a ride from my mom.”
She pretended to pout. “My little guy doesn’t want to be seen around mommy anymore?”
“I’m going to be ten next week. I’m not a little guy. Sheesh.”
I stood up and grabbed my backpack. “I’m outta here. Wait for me by the parking lot right after school, little guy.”
“Whatever, butt-face.”
Mom shook her head. “Boys.”
***
After school, I dropped off Ben’s friends at their homes as quickly as possible and then we headed to ours.
“Did you ever notice that Mr. O’Darby is never seen in the daylight?” said Ben as we pulled into our driveway.
I glanced into my rearview mirror at O’Darby’s house and gave a sinister laugh. “Maybe he’s actually a vampire.”
“That’s not funny,” he mumbled.
I stared at him. “You’re seriously that freaked out about the guy?”
He shrugged. “He’s strange.”
“Have you actually ever met him?”
“No.”
“Well, I think we should do something about that.”
He looked at me in horror. “No way.”
I opened the door to my ’72 Impala and got out. “Come on, Ben. Let’s go over and properly introduce ourselves to the neighbor.”
He shook his head vehemently. “You can, I’m not.”
I shut my door, walked around to the passenger side, and opened his. “I’m serious. The only way to beat your fears is to face them. We are going across the street to meet the Leprechaun.”
“No.”
I bent down onto my knee. “Tell you what, we’ll go across the street and ask to borrow some sugar. You stand behind me and just watch. You don’t even have to say a word.”
After a few seconds of silence, he nodded. “Fine.”
I smiled. “Good. Let’s go.”
Ben got out of the car and followed me to the edge of our yard. We both stopped at the curb and looked at Mr. O’Darby’s house. 
“What a shit-hole,” I said, staring at the dilapidated structure. Most of the homes on our street were old, large, but fairly maintained. This one had paint peeling on all sides, moss growing across fogged glass windows, and pretty much reminded me of the house from the movie “Psycho”, the creepy one behind the “Bates Motel.”
“Maybe we should just forget it. He might not even be home,” said Ben.
I nudged him. “We’ll soon find out. Come on.”
We walked across the street, and this time my pulse began to pick up. Ben’s paranoia was getting contagious.
Little brothers.
Ignoring the knot in my stomach, I stepped onto the rickety old porch and raised my hand to knock, when Ben stopped me.
“Don’t do it,” he pleaded, grabbing my arm. “Please.”
“Would you stop being such a wuss?”
His lip began to tremble. “I can’t help it. I don’t think we should be on his property.”
I sighed. “Ben, it’s fine. You know I would never put you in any kind of danger.”
“Not on purpose, I get that, but this is different,” he said, backing away. “I’m leaving.” Then he ran down the steps and back across the street.
“Can I help you?” asked a soft voice.
I whipped my head around and locked eyes with a girl standing behind the screen door. She was about my age, with long red hair, large almond-shaped eyes, and full lips. She was so hot, I could barely breathe.
I smiled weakly. “Uh…hi.”
She smiled back and my throat went dry. I wouldn’t have thought anyone could have gotten prettier.
Until that smile.
“Sorry,” I said, finding my voice. “My name is Trent and I, uh, live across the street and was wondering if you had any sugar I could borrow?”
She folded her arms under her chest and stared at me with amusement. “Sugar? What do you need sugar for?”
“Cookies?”
She threw her head back and laughed, a sound so nice that it made my heart skip a beat. “I’m sorry,” she said, wiping the tears from her eyes. “I just really wasn’t expecting that.”
Honestly, I thought her comment was borderline strange. Besides Kool-Aid, I didn’t know of many things, besides cookies, that you’d need to borrow sugar for.
She opened the screen door and stepped back. “Come on in. My dad’s not home, so I can loan you as much as you need.”
I stared in awe at the most intense green eyes I’d ever seen. “Thanks,” I said.
She smiled and nodded. “The house is kind of a mess, actually. Why don’t you wait right here. I’ll be right back.”
“Okay. Thanks.”
She turned and I couldn’t help but stare at the way her butt filled out the jeans she was wearing.
How come I’d never seen her before?
Sighing, I took a few more steps down the hallway and glanced into what appeared to be their living room. Or it would be. The furniture was covered in plastic, stacks of books were piled on top of coffee and end tables, and brown packing boxes took up almost every remaining space.
“We’re still unpacking,” she said, coming up behind me.
I turned around. “Oh, sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to be nosy.”
She shrugged and handed me a bowl of sugar. “It’s okay.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“I hope it’s enough,” she said. “I forgot to ask you how much you needed.”
I smiled. “This is plenty.”
“I’m Shannon, by the way,” she said, holding out her hand.
I wrapped my hand around hers and shook it. “Nice to meet you.”
“What’s it like?” she asked, pulling her hand back.
I raised an eyebrow. “What’s what like?”
“Going to school?”
“What do you mean? Don’t you go?”
She looked down at her feet and so did I. Her toes were painted pink with green stripes. “No,” she said.
“Are you home-schooled?”
“Yes, I guess you could say that.”
“Oh.”
“I just wish…”
“What?” I asked.
Our eyes met again but this time, hers was filled with fear. She grabbed my wrist and pulled me towards the door. “Oh, no. You have to leave. He’s coming.”
“Who? Your dad?”
“Quickly,” she said pushing me towards the front door. “He mustn’t see you.”
I opened up the screen door and turned to thank her again, but she’d already closed the inside door.
Strange family.
I shook my head and walked back across the street.

Chapter Three
“Trent met the girl of his dreams today,” said Ben with a smirk when mom stepped into the kitchen later that night.
I scowled at him. “Shut up.”
She set a bag of groceries on the counter and turned to me, her lips curled up in a smile. “Is that so?”
I shrugged. “She’s not the girl of my dreams. She’s O’Darby’s daughter, Shannon.”
Her eyebrows shot up. “He has a daughter?”
“Yeah. Didn’t he mention her when you talked to him?”
“I only spoke to him once,” she said, taking the groceries out of the bag. “When I ‘welcomed’ him to the neighborhood. He really wasn’t much for conversation.”
“He didn’t even mention her?” I asked.
“No, not at all.”
“Trent’s in love,” sang Ben.
I went over and put him in a headlock.
“Mom!” hollered Ben.
“Trent, leave your brother be.”
I released him. “Quit being such a little shit.”
“Language, Trent,” said mom, putting a jar of peanut butter into the cupboard.
“Mom, did you hear about those missing kids?” asked Ben.
She sighed. “Yes, how did you find out?”
“It’s been on the news all night,” I said.
“I figured it would be,” she answered.
Ben started asking more questions about the missing kids and I decided to let her deal with it. He’d already berated me with questions earlier.
“I’ll be upstairs,” I said, leaving the kitchen.
“It’s almost time for bed!” she hollered as I walked away.
I went to my room, shut the door, and grabbed the binoculars. Then I kneeled down next to my window, which also faced O’Darby’s house, and looked through them.
I smiled. “Oh…Shannon. Sweet…”
It was odd that I’d never noticed her before, although I’d also never made it a habit to go spying on anyone, especially with binoculars. Tonight, I had a clear view of what must have been her bedroom and I could see her walking around in a miniscule tank-top and shorts. I watched her dance around for several seconds until she disappeared out of view. Frowning, I waited, wishing I could get just one more glimpse of her hot bod.
Come on, Shannon.
She was so pretty and I hadn’t had a girlfriend for several months. My last one, Mandy, had moved out of town and we still talked on the phone, but it wasn’t the same. I missed everything that went with having a girlfriend, especially the kissing. I wondered if Shannon was a good kisser.
Her bedroom light flickered out and I sighed, that was that.
As I was about to put the binoculars away, a flash of light lit up her room.
“Weird,” I whispered, raising them back up to my eyes.
The frightening image that greeted me stopped my heart cold. An angry face stared back at me from her bedroom window, with eyes glowing a bright orange color, and a mouth that was twisted into an angry scowl.
Mr. O’ Darby?
I dropped the binoculars and backed away from the window, a cold chill running down my spine. I was in trouble – he’d caught me spying on his daughter and was obviously upset. Would he come over and tell my mother? And what the hell was wrong with his eyes?
A soft knock on the door startled me.
“Trent?”
“Yeah.”
“Why is your light off?” she said, flicking it on.
Still shaken, I didn’t quite know what to say.
“Well, guess who just called me,” she said.
“Who?”
Her lips thinned. “Jake.”
Jake was Ben’s father. Our mother had been married twice – my dad had died when I was only five and then she’d met Jake a couple of years later. Thankfully, they weren’t together anymore because he was a real jerk – used to push mom around, couldn’t hold a job, and drank like a fish. I couldn’t stand him.
“What did he want?”
“He wants to take Ben on his birthday next week.”
“Why?”
“Well, now that he’s rich, I guess he thinks he can do whatever he wants.”
Jake had lucked out and inherited an undisclosed amount of money from one of his great-uncles, after divorcing mom. He now owned a mansion bigger than the local grocery store, drove around in a flashy Mercedes, and had remarried a girl young enough to be his daughter.
“You’re not going to let him, are you?” I asked.
She shrugged. “I don’t know. Ben is always asking about his father, and Jake hasn’t ever volunteered to take him.”
“That’s just it,” I said. “Why does he want to do this?”
“Maybe he feels guilty about shutting Ben out of his life.”
“He should,” I said. “Anyway, I thought we were going to take Ben to a movie on his birthday.”
“I know, but we can always do that. I think it might be good for Jake to see his son. Especially now that Jake has actually quit drinking.”
I rolled my eyes. “Whatever. He’s still a jerk. He lives in the same town as us and basically ignores the fact that he has a kid.”
“I know,” she said, “but he’s still Ben’s father and has a right to see his son.”
“So you’re going to let him?”
“More than likely, but I’ll talk to Ben and see what he wants to do.”
Wanting to change the subject, I asked her about work. “So, did you hear anything more about those missing kids?”
“Yeah, actually, I did. Something strange – both kids were taken on their tenth birthday.”
My jaw dropped. “What?”
She nodded. “I know. It’s weird.”
“What if something happens to Ben? He’s turning ten.”
“Listen, kids turn ten every day in Iowa. Ben will be fine.”
“Have they been investigating other cities, to see if there were similar kidnappings?” This was just too creepy, even for me.
“Yes. But I don’t know if they’ve found anything. Matt only gives me bits and pieces of what’s happening. He doesn’t want to get into trouble at the station.”
“That’s understandable.”
“Well, get ready for bed,” she said. “It’s getting late.”
“Like I’m going to be able to sleep.”
“Your grades depend on it.”
“Yeah, yeah.”
***
Ben was ecstatic when he heard the news the next morning at breakfast.
“I wonder what he’ll buy me?” he asked, bubbling with excitement. “Dad’s rich now, isn’t he?”
“Don’t expect a lot,” said mom. “He may be rich, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to shower you with gifts.”
“He should,” I muttered. “He owes him.”
She gave me a warning look.
“I gotta go,” I said, standing up. “Thank God it’s Friday.”
“Don’t forget to pick your brother up from school.”
“Okay. Same place, Ben?”
“Sure,” he answered.
***
Thankfully, Ben’s friends had to stay after school and he was my only passenger.
“Can we stop at McDonald’s?” he asked. “I’m so craving a cheeseburger.”
“Yeah, I’m pretty hungry myself.”
We pulled through the drive-thru and I ordered three for myself and two for him, along with fries.
“Good thing I’m working this weekend,” I said, pulling into our driveway. “I’m almost broke and need to buy your gift.”
“You haven’t bought it yet?”
“Actually, I did. Happy Birthday – enjoy your burgers,” I joked.
“Ha ha…”
I got out of the car and stared across the street. Shannon’s house was quiet, and for some inexplicable reason, I knew she was alone.
“Here,” I said, handing him his burgers and fries. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
“What are you doing?” he asked, watching me as I walked away.
“Don’t worry about it. Go inside and wait for me.”
“Fine.”
I knocked on Shannon’s door, and seconds later, she answered.
“Hi, Trent,” she said, smiling brightly. Today her red hair was pulled back in a green bow and she wore white shorts and a green T-shirt that said “Kiss me, I’m Irish.”
I raised the bag of food. “Hungry?”
Her eyebrows shot up. “What’s in there?”
“McDonald’s.” I looked at her incredulously. “Don’t tell me you’ve never had McDonald’s before?”
“I’ve never had McDonald’s before,” she said, smiling.
“Oh, then you’ve been missing out. Here,” I said, pulling out a cheeseburger. “Try this.”
She unwrapped it and inhaled. “Oh my God, this smells heavenly.”
“Go ahead,” I said.
She opened her mouth and bit into it. “Oh, Trent,” she gushed. “This is…amazing.”
I smiled and watched as she inhaled the burger. “Here,” I said, handing her the French fries, too. “You can have all of them.”
“I couldn’t.”
“Just try one.”
I watched as she slipped one into her mouth and began chewing. “These are so good!” she squealed, grabbing more. “I’ve never had anything so delicious!”
“Seriously?”
She nodded. “No. I do all of the cooking, and believe me, I’ve never had anything so yummy. What was that meat and bread combination called again?”
I stared at her incredulously. “It was a cheeseburger. Haven’t you ever had a cheeseburger before?”
“No. We usually eat stew, potatoes, or ham. I had pizza once,” she closed her eyes and sighed, dreamily. “Man, it was amazing.”
“I love pizza,” I said. “My mom makes an awesome homemade taco pizza.”
She smiled. “Your mother lives with you?”
I nodded. I wanted to ask Shannon about hers but was afraid she’d tell me her mom had passed away or something. So I just changed the subject.
“So, can you come outside?” I asked, looking towards the sky. “It’s a beautiful spring day. Maybe we could go for a walk, or something?” 
She looked down. “No. I’m not allowed to leave the house.”
“Seriously?”
When she raised her eyes, there were tears. “Yes. Listen, I have to go. My dad will be home soon.”
“Can I see you tomorrow?” I asked.
She smiled. “Sure. For a little while.”
“Good,” I smiled and backed away. “Same time?”
She nodded. “Yes, but Trent…”
“What?”
Her face became serious.  “When my dad is home, please stay away.”
“Okay.” 
“And…don’t use the binoculars.”
My face turned red. “Uh…”
She smiled. “It’s okay. I knew you were watching, but… so did he.”
I swallowed hard. “Sorry.”
She stepped forward, and before I knew what was happening, she kissed me lightly on the cheek. “Thanks for everything,” she whispered, pulling away. “Nobody has ever been this nice to me.”
“You’re welcome,” I said, sickened by the fact that I’d only given her food and she was grateful enough to kiss me.
“Tomorrow?” she asked. “My dad will be gone most of the day. I’ll open my bedroom window when it’s safe to come over.”
I smiled. “Okay, tomorrow, then.”

Chapter Four
I was so excited to see Shannon on Saturday, that I had a restless night’s sleep. When the sun began to rise, I gave up on it and went downstairs to eat.
“You’re up early for a Saturday,” said my mom, who’d just gotten home from working a third shift at the station.
“Couldn’t sleep.”
She sat across from me at the table and sighed. “Another child is missing. This time over in Boar Lake.”
My eyes widened. “Seriously? That’s only twenty minutes from here.”
She closed her eyes and rubbed her temples. “Yep. Another child who’d just turned ten.”
“What?”
She opened her eyes. “Trent, remember to keep an eye on your brother until they catch this person.”
“Of course.”
She yawned and then stood up. “I’m going to bed. I’m exhausted.”
***
I paced through the house most of the day, waiting for Shannon to open her bedroom window. Finally, at one o’clock in the afternoon, she did.
“Don’t leave the house,” I told Ben, combing my dark hair. “I’ll be back later.”
“Why?” he whined. “I told Steve I’d come over later. He has this new video game I’ve been dying to try out.”
“Tough. Wait until mom wakes up so she can drive you.”
His eyes narrowed. “It’s because of those missing kids, isn’t it?”
“Something like that. Just promise me you won’t leave the house?”
“You know, they’re only taking kids on their tenth birthday.” His face paled. “I, um, I’m not turning ten until next Friday.”
“We just don’t want to take any chances.”
He swallowed hard. “You don’t think he’ll come for me, do you?”
“The kidnapper? No, I’m sure you’ll be fine. You’ll be with your dad on your birthday, anyway.”
He smiled. “Yeah and he’s rich, so he can keep me safe.”
“Being rich doesn’t always make you more responsible,” I said. “Not with kids, anyway.”
And especially not that tool. I didn’t care how much money he had, I still remembered the bruises on mom’s face after Jake’s drunken rages. He’d always be a jerk to me, no matter how much he’d supposedly changed.
“My dad will protect me,” he said.
I nodded. “Yeah, I’m sure you’ll be fine. Now, I have to places to be. Stay inside and don’t leave until mom wakes up and you talk to her.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Where are you going?”
“Across the street.”
He smiled. “You’re going to see that girl, aren’t you?”
I shrugged. “Yeah, so?”
“Aren’t you afraid of her dad?”
“No,” I lied. “He doesn’t scare me.”
His face darkened. “You should be.”
I burst out laughing. “God, you’re so dramatic, Ben.”
“No, I’ve been watching him. He’s up to no good. In fact, I think he might be the one taking the kids…”
I rolled my eyes. “You can’t be serious?”
“I saw him carrying a large duffel bag into his house last night. I think there may have been a body in it.”
“That’s insane,” I said. “Shannon’s dad isn’t a murderer.”
He folded his arms across his chest. “How do you know?”
I stared at him for a few seconds and then answered. “Because, she seems too normal to be living with a monster like that.”
He leaned forward. “Maybe she doesn’t know.”
“Quit doing this,” I said. “You’re being overly paranoid and freaking yourself out.”
“Fine, don’t believe me.”
I turned and walked away, wondering if I wasn’t being paranoid enough.
***
“Come in,” said Shannon, holding the door open.
“Okay.”
Today she was dressed in a white T-shirt and green shorts. Her silky red hair hung loosely down her back and I had an incredible urge to run my fingers through it.
“You must be Irish,” I said, staring at her green shorts.
She smiled. “Finally figured it out, huh?”
I rapped myself in the head with my knuckles. “Knock-knock, pudding-head.”
She laughed. “Are you Irish?”
“No, but Ben’s dad is. Full-blooded.”
She didn’t say anything as I followed her into the kitchen, which was surprisingly well-maintained and up-to-date for such an old house. Silver and black appliances, marbled counters, and dark, almond-stained cupboards. It didn’t look at all like I would have pictured. 
“Are you hungry? I made some stew,” she said, lifting the cover from a metal pot sitting on the stove.
I inhaled and my stomach came to life. “It smells great. What’s in it?”
She stirred the pot. “Cabbage, ham, potatoes, corn, carrots, and some secret spices. It’s a recipe carried down through the generations in my family.”
“Did your mother teach you how to make this?”
Shannon’s hand froze in the pot. “No. I’ve never met my mother,” she whispered.
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
She turned to me. “It’s okay. Just be grateful for yours.”
“Did… your mother die?”
Her face darkened. “I don’t know.”
“Why?”
She raised two fingers to my lips to silence me. “Please, don’t ask me any more questions about my mother, okay?”
I nodded. “Sorry.”
Shannon walked over to a cupboard and pulled out two bowls. “It’s okay. Let’s eat, shall we?”
***
The stew was the best I’d ever had. While we ate, she asked me dozens of questions about school and McDonald’s. 
“You must have heard of McDonald’s on television?”
“What’s that?” she asked.
My eyebrows shot up. “Television? Seriously, you don’t know?”
“I guess not.”
As I described what a television was, I started getting angry. This beautiful girl was sheltered beyond what seemed to be normal. I could understand not having a television or not eating fast food, but the fact that he wouldn’t even let her outside for fresh air and sun was crazy.
“What do you do for fun?” I asked.
“I read.” Her eyes lit up. “We have a wonderful library with thousands of books.”
Now that was intriguing. “Can I see it?” I asked.
She smiled and stood up. “Of course, let’s go.”
I followed her down the hallway through several doorways until we entered a part of the house that literally took my breath away. With the finely carved capitals, cool antiques, and large fireplace, it looked like something out of an architectural magazine.
“How?” I asked, spinning around the dark-cedar library, trying to figure out if I was caught up in some kind of bizarre dream. “This just can’t be real.”  
The massive, round room was lit up by skylights, and because of its size, the fact that it was located in this particular house was unexplainable. I mean, it was larger than the one at my high school!
And the books – there had to be tens of thousands. They lined the curved walls, and went up four levels, which you could access by using the winding spiral stairway.
She grabbed my hand. “Come with me.”
I nodded and let her drag me all the way to the very top. When we reached the highest level of the library, she showed me a doorway.
“What’s in there?” I asked.
“My bedroom.”
My heart began to race. She was inviting me into her bedroom. I’d never been in any girl’s bedroom before.
She opened the door and stepped inside.
I licked my lips. “Um.”
She turned back to me and held out her hand. “Come inside.”
“What if your dad finds out?”
“My dad isn’t here.”
“I…”
She smiled. “I just want to show you something. Don’t be nervous.”
“Okay.”
“Did you think I was going to try and seduce you or something?” she asked with a twinkle in her eyes.
I shook my head, vehemently. “No, no…not at all.”
Who was I kidding? Of course I’d hoped she would. From the look on her face, however, it wasn’t going to happen.
I stepped inside of her bedroom and was shocked, once again.
“Do you like it?” she asked, smiling.
I would if I was a five-year-old girl. Her bedroom walls were decorated with pink and green flowers, rainbows, and hearts. At the foot of her bed, which looked like an enormous princess carriage, sat an oversized white toy box with fairies painted along the outside. 
“Wow, well, it’s interesting,” I said, staring in wonder at the shelves lined with china dolls, Barbies, and stuffed animals.
She opened up the toy box and pulled out a large ship. “What about this? Do you think boys like to play with things like this?”
I nodded, touching the sails on the toy. “Yeah, it’s pretty cool.”
She nodded. “Good. I want to make sure they’ll like it. It’s new.”
“Who would like it?”
Her hand flew up to her lips as if she’d said something wrong.  “I...”
“What?” I asked.
She cleared her throat. “Nothing. Let’s go back to the library.”
“Okay,” I said, liking that idea. Her room was beginning to creep me out.
 “I have a book I want you to see,” she said, closing the toy box. “It’s really beautiful.”
“Sure,” I said, turning towards the door. As I was about to walk out, a shiny glint of light caught the corner of my eye. I turned around and stared curiously.  “What’s that?” I asked, pointing towards a large, black pot near her bedroom window.
“Oh,” she said, waving her hand. “Just a pot.”
It was then that I heard it.
Whispers.
“Do you hear that noise?” I asked.
Her eyes narrowed. “What?”
I took a step towards the pot and the sounds grew louder.
Shannon grabbed my arm. “Stay away from it,” she said.
The whispers stopped. “Why?”
She bit her lower lip. “You can’t touch them.”
“Touch what?” I asked, wondering why she was suddenly trembling.
She sighed and then released my arm. That’s when the whispers started again.
“Tell me you don’t hear that?”
Shannon’s eyes filled with tears.
I looked down and that’s when I noticed them.
The gold coins.
“Are these real? “ I asked, sticking my hand into the pot. I pulled out a coin and rubbed my finger over it.
“Put that down!” she hollered.
I stared at her incredulously and dropped the coin back into the pot. “Shannon, settle down.”
Her face seemed to crumple before my eyes. “You must never touch, them, Trent,” she said, tears running down her cheeks. “They could get hurt.”
I touched her shoulder. “Shannon, it’s okay. They’re just coins.”
She shook her head. “No, I have to protect them.”
“Is it really gold?” I asked. There had to have been hundreds of coins.
She didn’t answer the question, instead she grabbed my wrist and squeezed. “A child should be kept closest to the heart,” she whispered, her eyes shining brightly. “Do not squander what is innocent to gratify that which is wicked.”
“What?”
She released my arm. “Go, you must go now. I’ve made a horrible mistake.”
“Shannon –”
Pushing me out of her bedroom, she said, “Quickly. We must get you out of here before he returns. If he catches you…”
I stopped in my tracks and turned back to her. “Wait, what are you so afraid of?” I asked. “Does your father hurt you?”
She shook her head. “No, never. But if he catches you here, he’ll kill you.”

Chapter Five
That night I sat in my bedroom and stared out the window towards Shannon’s house. I couldn’t stop thinking about her warning. Was her father dangerous and would he actually kill someone?
“Trent?”
I turned to my mother, who was standing in the doorway. “Yeah.”
“I’m leaving for work.”
I looked at the clock, it was almost ten-thirty at night. “Okay.”
“Could you do me a favor and crush all of those cans in the garage? I forgot that I’d promised to give them to Mr. Schneider and he’s stopping by in the morning to pick them up.”
“Sure.”
“Are you okay?” she asked.
I stretched my legs out and yawned. “I’m fine, why?”
“You’ve been sitting here in the dark for the last couple of hours, staring across the street at the O’Darby house.”
I smiled. “You noticed?”
“Yeah, several times. What’s going on?”
I shook my head. “Nothing. Just have some things on my mind.”
She put a hand on my shoulder. “Honey, if you ever want to talk…”
“I’m fine, mom.”
“But…”
“Seriously,” I said. “I’m fine.”
She sighed. “Okay. I’ll be home in the morning. Keep the doors locked when you’re sleeping, and if you need anything, call me.”
“Yep.”
After she left, I checked on Ben, who was sleeping. I then closed his bedroom door, grabbed my iPod, and headed out towards the garage.
“Crap,” I said, staring at the large box of cans that needed to be crushed. There had to be almost two-hundred. My mom and her diet soda.
I pulled the box closer to the can-crusher on the wall, plugged in my iPod speakers, and began crushing. After the first fifty or so, I started getting thirsty and walked over to the mini-refrigerator in the corner of the garage. As I bent down, the music stopped playing.
I groaned.
Cheap-ass speakers.
I reached for the bottle of water when I heard a loud mewling noise coming from outside. Thinking it was a cat, I walked outside and looked around.
Nothing.
Sighing, I turned to go back into the garage when I heard a choked sob, coming from across the street. I ran back into the garage and grabbed a hammer, then stepped back outside.
Only fools investigate trouble without a weapon. Not me, hell no. I wasn’t going to be a victim. 
A flash of light near O’Darby’s garage caught my attention. Seconds later, Mr. O’Darby himself stepped from around the back of the garage and went inside.
My heart started pounding when I thought of the way he’d glared at me the other night, through his daughter’s window. The malevolence in those eerie eyes still gave me the chills. And the way they’d glowed, what was up with that?
I needed to watch this guy. Shannon had basically admitted he was dangerous. Was it possible that he really was responsible for those missing children and that Ben was right? Crap, what if he was right?
Trying to stay calm, I moved towards the shadow of the bushes in our yard, which actually gave me a better view of O’Darby’s garage, and crouched down. After a short time, Mr. O’Darby stepped out of the garage, mumbling to himself, clearly upset.
“Fools,” he growled, pacing back and forth.
Fools?
After walking back and forth several times, he disappeared into his garage once more. This time I noticed flashes of light coming from his garage.
What in the heck was he doing in there?
There were windows on the other side of his garage, away from the door. If I could get to those windows before he stepped back out of the garage, I could see inside.
Before I could work up enough courage, he stepped back outside of the garage, this time struggling with a large army-green duffel bag.
 It was bigger than he was and I imagined him to be four-and-a-half feet tall.
After a few more seconds of struggling, he set it down and began dragging it towards the house. When he reached the steps to the porch and began pulling it up, I heard a strangled cry.
Shit, it was coming from the bag!
O’Darby ignored the sound and disappeared into the house with the duffel bag. I stood up and raced into the house to call the police.
***
“We checked the entire house,” said Matt, my mother’s boyfriend. “There was nothing, Trent.”
“Did you find the duffel bag?” I asked, frustrated. 
“Yes, he showed it to us. The only thing in the duffel bag was camping gear.”
“I heard someone crying,” I said. “I swear to God, Matt.”
“I don’t know what to tell you,” he said. “We couldn’t find anything at all.”
“Did you check out the library?”
“Of course. We checked the basement cellar, the kitchen, all of the bedrooms. There was absolutely nothing.”
I sat down at the kitchen table and put my head in my hands. “I don’t understand. What about the garage?” I asked, lifting my head.
Matt sat down across from me. “Yes, of course.”
“This is bullshit. He’s hiding something.”
Our phone started ringing and Matt answered it. “Yes, everyone’s fine, Mira,” he said into the phone. “False alarm.”
I frowned. It wasn’t a false alarm. The crazy old man got rid of the body.
Matt smiled and nodded. “It’s okay, babe. The guy was a little weird. Not a child-slayer, obviously, but strange. Okay, love you, too.”
“Is she mad?” I asked, when he hung up.
He shrugged. “A little. She says you and Ben have been a little spooked lately. I don’t blame you, though. Not with those missing kids.”
I sighed.
“Well, I got to go,” he said. “Do me a favor, will you?”
“What?”
“Stay away from O’Darby. He may not be a killer, but he’s pissed off as all hell that you’ve been sniffing around his daughter and spying on him.”
I folded my arms across my chest and sat back. “Is that what he said?”
“Pretty much.”
“He’s crazy,” I said. “He doesn’t let her go anywhere, not even outside.”
Matt raised his eyebrows.
“Seriously,” I said.
He patted my shoulder. “I spoke to her and she seemed pretty well-adjusted. Listen, get some sleep, now. I’ll see you on Sunday. Mira’s invited me for dinner.”
“Okay.”
After he left, I checked all of the locks and went upstairs to get ready for bed. I kept my light out and went to the window, to shut the blinds. As I reached for the cord, my eyes were once again, drawn to O’Darby’s house.
My heart stopped.
Standing on the lawn, in the darkness, stood O’Darby, staring up at me, his eyes glowing brightly and a dark smile spread across his pale face.
“Oh crap,’ I gasped, backing away from the window.
Suddenly, something slammed against the window and I almost expected to see O’Darby hovering in the darkness, trying to break the glass. But instead, there was something that scared the hell out of me. Glowing brightly on the outside of the window was a clear message that chilled me to the bone –
Ben
Gripped with fear, I rushed out of my bedroom and down the hallway to my little brother’s bed, relieved to find him still sleeping soundly. I stared at the way his thick eyelashes fanned across his cheek and clenched my fists. He could not have my brother.
No way. 
I grabbed one of his pillows, slid to the floor and stayed awake for the next three hours until exhaustion finally consumed me and I fell asleep.

Chapter Six
“That’s crazy,” said my mother. “In fact, I went over and spoke to Mr. O’Darby myself and apologized profusely for your actions, Trent.”
I’d just relayed the previous night’s activities to my mother the next morning but she refused to believe that he was a murderer and had basically threatened Ben’s life.
“He’s after Ben,” I protested. “You shouldn’t be apologizing to that guy, mom. He’s a lunatic.”
She pointed to me. “You should be the one apologizing to him.”
I stared at her incredulously. “No way. Even Shannon said he was dangerous. I’m not talking to him.”
“That’s another thing,” she said. “Mr. O’Darby asked that you stay away from Shannon.”
“Fine,” I said. “Whatever.”
She sighed. “I know you’re worried about your brother, especially after those children have disappeared, but you can’t start accusing people because they’re a little weird.”
I raised my chin. “That reminds me, have there been any more missing children?”
She stared at me but didn’t say anything.
“There was, wasn’t there?” I said. “Last night.”
“Yes, twenty miles from here.”
“Was it like the other ones?”
She nodded.
“It was him! He did it! Why don’t you believe me?”
“Did what?” asked Ben, walking into the kitchen.
“Don’t worry about it,” said mom, warning me with her eyes.
“Is it about dad?” he asked, frowning. “Did he cancel?”
She smiled. “No, honey. He hasn’t canceled. In fact, I spoke to him again and everything is all set. He’s picking you up right after school and you’re going to spend the entire weekend with him.”
Ben’s eyes lit up. “Really?”
She pulled him into her arms. “Really.”
“Awesome,” he said. “I can’t wait.”
I could though. Something told me that O’Darby wouldn’t care where Ben was. He’d find him and kidnap him on his tenth birthday.
But not if I could help it.
***
Monday after school, I rushed over to O’Darby’s to talk to Shannon.
“You shouldn’t be here,” said Shannon, through the screen door. “It’s too dangerous.”
“Shannon,” I pleaded. “He’s threatening to take my brother. You have to help me stop him.”
“I can’t stop him,” she whispered, tears forming in her eyes. “Nobody can.”
“Is he the one taking all of the kids?” I asked.
She stared at me but didn’t say anything.
“Shannon,” I pleaded. “Tell me, is he stealing the kids?”
She let out a ragged breath and shook her head. “No. He’s not stealing anyone.”
“I don’t understand. He has to be responsible for the missing children. I can just feel it.”
“He’s not stealing the children, but he does take them.”
“I don’t understand.”
Tears rolled down her cheeks.
“Tell me what’s happening. Please! It’s my little brother. I can’t let him take Ben.”
“They’ve been offered to him.”
My eyes widened. “What?”
“He’s collecting on payments that are due, on the child’s tenth birthday.”
“Are you serious?”
It sounded insane. Who would offer a child for payment? And for what?
Her eyes grew large.  “He’s coming, I feel it. You have to go!” she cried, slamming the door in my face.
I backed away and turned around, only to find Mr. O’Darby standing at the bottom of the steps.
A smile spread across his ruddy face. “Foolish boy. You just don’t learn, do you?”
Before I could answer, he raised his hand and a ball of green light began to form. As I stared in horrific wonder, he pulled his hand back and thrust it at me.
***
I shot up in my bed, gasping for breath.
“Trent! Thank God!” cried my brother, throwing his arms around me.
“Wha…what happened?” I asked when he pulled away.
His eyes were red and puffy, as if he’d been crying. “I found you outside, passed out on the front lawn. I shook you until you stood up and then walked inside. I was so freaked out because you wouldn’t talk to me, Trent. You just ignored me.”
“What?”
He nodded. “Yeah, you reminded me of a zombie, except you weren’t bloody or missing body parts.”
My heart began to race as the memories came back. Mr. O’Darby had hit me with some kind of magical light!
But he hadn’t killed me.
Odd.
“Did you see Mr. O’Darby outside?” I asked.
“No, thank God.”
I stood up, moved to the window, and looked outside. It was still daylight. “What time is it?”
“It’s six-fifteen,” he said. “I’m hungry. Can you make me something to eat?”
I stared at Shannon’s house and noticed she had curtains on her window now. “Yeah,” I said, turning back to Ben. “Let’s go downstairs.”
***
“That was really weird,” said Ben, finishing his milk. “The way you passed out.”
I finished chewing the rest of my macaroni-and-cheese. “Don’t worry about it,” I said. “I probably just needed some food.” No way was I going to tell him what really happened.
“Oh.”
“Listen, I want you to do me a favor. When you’re at your dad’s, call me if you need anything. I don’t care what time of the day it is. I mean it.”
“Okay,” he said.
I reached over and ruffled his hair. “You’re a good brother.”
He smiled. “You too.”

Chapter Seven
The rest of the week was pretty uneventful, but I didn’t take my eyes off of Ben when school was out. I even slept on the floor of his bedroom at night.
“Why are you doing that?” he asked after the second night I’d set up camp.
I shrugged. “I just think we should spend more time together. Pretty soon I’ll be going off to college, you know.”
He smiled. “Oh, yeah.”
Mom didn’t notice at all because she was on third shift the entire week.
“I’m going to miss you this weekend,” she said to Ben before leaving for work Thursday night. “I don’t know what I’m going to do without seeing your beautiful blue eyes.”
“It’s only one weekend mom, sheesh.”
She kissed the top of his head. “To me it’s going to feel like a lifetime.”
Those words gave me the chills.
He smiled. “I’ll call you every night.”
“And I’ll call you every day,” she said, hugging him.
After she left for work, I stared out the window, towards the O’Darby’s house, wondering when he’d try taking Ben. I wasn’t sure, but I knew one thing, I wouldn’t be too far.
***
Jake showed up for his son Friday afternoon. It had been almost a year since I’d seen him and he looked very different. Not only was he wearing clean clothes, but his dark red hair was neatly trimmed, his beard was gone, and he looked… sober.
“Hey, Ben,” he said, throwing his arms around him. “I’m so happy to see you!”
“Dad!” cried Ben. “I missed you so much.”
Jake looked at me and smiled. “Hi, Trent.”
I nodded towards the Mercedes. “Nice ride.”
“Thanks,” he said, opening the door for Ben.
“Doing pretty good these days?”
He closed the door and shrugged. “Yeah, I guess.”
“You hear about those missing kids?” I asked.
“Unfortunately.”
Ben rolled down his window. “Goodbye, Trent!”
“See you soon, buddy! Have a great birthday with your dad!”
“Thanks,” he said and then rolled up the window.
“Take care of him,” I said.
“Of course. He’s my son,” said Jake.
We stared at each other for a minute and then he got into the car. I watched as he pulled away and then made my move.
***
“Hi, Shannon,” I said, staring at her through the screen door.
“You’re very persistent,” she said with a bitter smile. “You just won’t give up.”
I grabbed the screen door handle and was relieved to find it unlocked. “No, not when it comes to Ben.”
She stared at me in horror as I swung the door open and grabbed her wrist. “What are you doing?”
“Sorry, but I need you,” I said, pulling her outside onto the porch.
She tried pulling her arm away. “Stop, this, please, Trent!”
“It’s the only way I can think of saving him. I’m sorry,” I said.
“Trent, would you…just…stop!”
I released my grip on her and rubbed my forehead. “Look, I’m sorry, okay? It’s Ben’s birthday. His tenth. Your dad’s going to take him if I don’t do something to stop him.”
She rubbed her wrist. “How is kidnapping me going to help?”
“Negotiation. Ben in return for you.”
“Seriously? That’s all you’ve got?”
I nodded. “Yeah.”
She groaned. “You still don’t get it.”
“What’s there to get? He’s a lunatic and wants my brother.”
“Look, all he has to do is snap his fingers and I’m back home and in my room. You can’t stop him.”
“What about you?”
“What about me?”
“You’re his daughter, don’t you have any powers? Can’t you help me stop him?”
“No, he’s much too powerful.”
I grabbed her wrist, again. “Sorry, Shannon, but I don’t have time for arguing. We’re leaving.”
“Trent…”
“Listen, What if I buy you a cheeseburger along the way? Would you at least consider helping me?”
She sucked in her breath. “From McDonald’s?”
I smiled. “Yes. I’ll even get you a bigger one this time.”
“Why didn’t you just say so?” she said, this time pulling me down the steps.
“Are you going to be okay in the sun?” I asked, looking up in the sky.
“Yes. I’m not a vampire, goofball.”
As far as I was concerned, stopping a vampire would be easier.

Chapter Eight
“This is so good,” she groaned, as we sat outside of Jake’s gated mansion in the darkness. “It’s even better than the last one.”
“It’s a quarter-pounder,” I said, tapping my fingers on the steering wheel.
“Well, thank you for getting it.”
“Does he have a set time when he takes the kids?” I asked, getting more frustrated by the minute. What if he’d already taken Ben?
“Usually at the exact time they were born. But…then again, it’s not always the case. It’s a matter of convenience.”
“So, we have no idea.” The truth was, I didn’t even know what time Ben had been born.
 “Don’t worry – I’ll feel his presence when he arrives.”
“Good.”
“Look, I know you don’t understand this, but he only takes children that are given to him.”
“I still don’t understand that,” I said, raising my voice. “Nobody gave Ben to your father.”
She motioned towards the house. “Really?”
I tightened my grip on the steering wheel. “No, Jake wouldn’t give away his son.”
At least I didn’t want to believe it.
“He’s obviously wealthy. Was he always this rich?” she asked, taking another bite of the burger.
“No. He was a drunken loser who used to beat his wife,” I mumbled.
She nodded. “Well, it’s obvious, then. He made a deal with my dad.”
“A deal?”
“Riches for his first-born child.”
“What – is your dad, like, the Devil or something?”
“No, he’s a Leprechaun.”
“I thought they were supposed to be happy little guys who brought luck?”
“Just be lucky he didn’t kill you the other day.”
***
Dreams of four-leaf clovers, rainbows, and evil Leprechauns invaded my sleep. Just when I was about to lose the pot of gold, someone was shaking my shoulder. I opened my eyes and stared into Shannon’s pools of green.
“He’s here,” she whispered.
We quickly got out of the car, walked up to the gate, and stopped.
“If he really gave Ben to your dad, he’s not going to just let us in.”
She sighed. “Give me your hand.”
I did and watched as she closed her eyes.
“Close your eyes,” she said. “Or you’re going to be very dizzy.”
“Okay.”
The next thing I knew, we were inside the large Colonial mansion, in one of the hallways.
“How did you do that?”
She dropped my hand and smoothed down her white and green skirt. “My dad isn’t the only Leprechaun in the family.”
“A Leprechaun?” My eyes traveled down her long legs. “You certainly don’t look like one.”
She shrugged. “My mother was a Tree Nymph.”
“Oh, well obviously.”
“Where’s your brother’s room?” she asked.
“Your guess is as good as mine.”
She closed her eyes and then opened them. “We have to hurry. They’re in the den.”
“Where’s that?” I asked.
She grabbed my hand and told me to close my eyes again.
“What is the meaning of this?” growled the familiar angry voice of O’Darby.
Knowing how powerful he was, I didn’t waste any time. I pulled Shannon in closer to me. “I have your daughter, so don’t you dare touch Ben.”
“Trent!”
I turned towards my brother’s voice and found him cowering behind Jake in the corner of the room.
“Trent, what are you doing here?” asked Jake.
“I’m here to stop you from giving away my little brother, asshole!”
His lips thinned. “No, I’m not letting him take Ben. I’ve already refused.”
O’Darby stepped closer to Jake and pointed his finger at him. “We made a deal. It was non-negotiable.”
Tears filled Jake’s eyes. “I was wrong, he’s my son. You can’t take him away from me!”
O’Darby spread out his hands and grinned. “You gave him up, for all of this. Isn’t this everything you’ve ever wanted?”
“It was, but not anymore. I’m not that same man.”
“Well, that’s too bad for you. You see, once you’ve made a deal, there’s no going back.”
I took a step towards O’Darby. “I won’t let you take him!”
His eyes flew back to me. “You can’t stop me, boy!”
“I’ll trade you, Shannon for Ben,” I said, pushing her behind me.
He stared at me for a minute and then threw his head back and laughed. “Oh, that’s priceless. You’re trying to make a deal with me?”
I nodded. “Yes, leave my brother alone and you can take Shannon back.”
He clutched his stomach and started laughing harder.
“Get out of my house!” growled Jake, who was apparently finding his backbone. “Leave us!”
O’Darby wiped the tears from his eyes. “It’s time to leave. Come here, Ben.”
“No!” he cried. “Please don’t let him take me, daddy!”
“I have another appointment in fifteen minutes,” said O’Darby, looking at his watch. “I don’t have time for this. I’m just going to have to add him to the pot right now, forget about playtime.”
“Pot?” gasped Ben.
“Playtime?” I asked.
“I usually let Shannon play with the children, then rock them to sleep before the transformation. No time tonight.” Then, there was a flash of light and the large pot from Shannon’s bedroom appeared next to O’Darby.
“Did you like my treasures?” he asked, staring directly at me. He dipped his hand into the pot and brought out a handful of coins. “They’re lovely, aren’t they?”
As I stared at the coins, images of young faces began to appear. Frightened faces.
“No!” I gasped, realizing what he’d done with the children.
O’Darby stared at the coins in delight. “Treasures, all of them. I think so, at least. So does Shannon, obviously. She takes care of them even after they’ve transformed.”
“How could you do this?” I asked. “You have a daughter of your own! How could you?”
His eyes regarded me curiously. “You look at me like I’m some kind of monster,” he said. “But their parents, they’re the ones who’ve traded them. They gave them up for riches, fame, and fortune.”
“What they did,” I said, staring at him in horror, “was give up the most precious gifts they’d already owned for things that are worth nothing in comparison.”
O’Darby smiled. “Very good, boy. Very good.”
“And you carry them around in a pot,” I said, glaring at him. “Like that is any better.”
He frowned. “They are my treasures now. I keep them safe.”
“Are you kidding me? They’re prisoners! Look at their faces! They’re miserable!”
He stared at the coins for a few seconds and then shrugged. “It’s the way it is. Always has been that way through the generations. At least we still value them more than their parents.”
“If you value them, then set them free!”
He licked his lips and nodded. “I feel your passion for the children, young man, really I do, but…”
“Do you think you’re any better? They are suffering!” I said, staring at the coins. “Look, they’re crying!”
Sure enough, the faces on the coins were covered in tears and if you listened hard enough, you could hear them sob.
“Wait,” said Shannon, stepping around me. “There is another way.”
His eyebrows shot up. “What say you, daughter?”
“Father, a riddle. Let’s ask him a riddle and if he gets it right, release all of them. Remember the old days?”
O’Darby’s eyes lit up. “Oh, I do love a riddle, yes I do. That’s a splendid idea, my darling.”
“If I answer your riddle,” I said. “You’ll leave them all go?”
“Well…” mumbled the Leprechaun, rubbing his chin. “I’d hate to lose them but then again, I doubt you’ll ever answer my riddle correctly.”
“But if I do, will you let them all go?”
He waved his hand. “Yes, very well.”
I inhaled. “Okay, lay it on me.”
“Wait!” yelled Jake, who’d been listening in stunned silence. “Can I help solve the riddle?”
“No,” said O’Darby. “Only the young man. His heart is pure, unlike yours.”
“But…” argued Jake.
“Why don’t you do the honors,” interrupted O’Darby, turning towards Shannon. “Since it was your idea.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Really?”
“Yes. But don’t you dare give him an easy one, or I will take back my offer.”
“Okay, father.” She turned to me. “Trent, think hard – a mile from end to end, yet as close to you as a friend. A precious commodity, freely given. Seen on the dead and on the living. Found on the rich, poor, short and tall, but shared among children most of all. What am I?”
I closed my eyes and thought about the words. If I got this wrong, it would be the end of Ben.
“Trent?” asked Ben.
I let out a ragged breath and opened my eyes. “Something these coins haven’t felt for a long time. A smile.”
O’Darby stared at me and then smiled. “Very good, unfortunately, that one was a little too easy, I see.”
“But, father!” protested Shannon.
He raised his hand. “Just wait, Shannon.”
“But!”
“Silence!” He then turned to me. “I need one more thing from you, boy. You see, if I release these children, they’ll need homes and I’ll need to know that you’ll find loving ones. Give me a good reason why I should trust you with my treasure?”
I thought back to what Shannon had said to me the other day. It was beautiful and summed up the love that a parent should have for their children. “Because I believe that every child should be kept closest to the heart, and I would never squander what is innocent to gratify that which is wicked.”
His face darkened and he looked at Shannon. “You shared this with him?”
She didn’t say anything.
“You know in your heart,” I said, “If you really have one, that I hold these words just as true as you, Leprechaun.”
He stared at me for a few seconds and then threw his head back and laughed. “Oh,” he said, shaking his finger at me. “You know, I like you, boy. You are quite amusing.”
“Are you going to let them go?” I asked. “You promised!”
He sighed and nodded. “Yes, indeed. Sometimes a pot needs to be emptied.”
“Thank God,” I said, falling to my knees as Ben rushed over to me. I pulled my brother into my arms and held him tight to my chest.
“But,” said O’Darby, grinning darkly, “mark my words, the pot won’t stay empty. There are many people in this world, too willing to refill it.”
***
O’Darby was true to his word and the children were released from the pot. Some of them had been imprisoned for centuries, some for only a week or two. Most, mercifully, couldn’t remember anything, including their parents, who’d given them up.
Fortunately, Shannon volunteered to help care for the children, in an old family castle in Ireland, while we searched for loving homes. Again, without her magic, there is no way we could have succeeded without going to the police and sending some of them back to the people who’d given them up like a pair of shoes.
It took us four years to find homes for three hundred-and-twenty-two children. During that time, Shannon and I fell in love and eventually married. During the ceremony, her father, who I still despised and kept a close eye on, offered us a castle of our own, to live out the rest of our days.
I refused.
“You’ll do,” he said, nodding in approval. “You’ll do.”
***
The End

 





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