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The Bargain

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I stared into my pint of Guinness. In the dim corner of the pub where I sat, the brown liquid appeared almost like rosewood. I played with the foam at the top a moment, then glanced down at the four other pints strewn around the table like partially played chess pieces, all in various stages of consumption. I’ll admit I never liked to actually finish a pint, rather get each to its own point where I grew tired of it, then start another. Starting a pint felt better than finishing it. I’m not sure if that’s because the foamy part tasted better, or because finishing it reminded me Lynn wouldn’t be coming back. When we were in love, I’d always leave half a pint for her to finish. She’d said once she liked the bottom part since it tasted stronger.

God we loved each other. She was almost like a dream. Dirty blonde, tiny nymph-like body. She always wore flowers in her hair and loved the outdoors, though not because it was another way of spelling fitness. She read and wrote poetry (and not the shite nowadays that doesn’t rhyme, and tells everyone reading the shite life of the author as though it were as good as Othello), delighted in making clothing (her handmade undies…I still get excited thinking about what she used to wear underneath everything else), and above all, she loved to talk. We’d talk about everything and never anything dirty. It just didn’t feel right with her. Actually, of all the girls I’ve been with who enjoyed discussing sex, no one could make me blush like Lynn. Other girls would get all frank in public places the morning after a romp, but it never did anything for me except rouse incredulous laughter. But all Lynn had to say was something like, last night…remember? or Colin…when you brushed my shoulder with your fingertips…and I would blush brighter than Rudolph on Christmas Eve, and squirm to boot. She had a way of saying everything without saying anything. God. If we’d have been food, I was all beefsteak and potatoes; she was all saffron and fois gras. Shite that sounds stupid, but it’s one of the only ways I can put it. And we never did anything dirty…ever. But I swear she satisfied me to a point where I would smile inexplicably almost every day.

Then we fought. She started it, but I really was to blame. And I didn’t listen—well, I did, just not enough. The flame flickered low and went out. Now, we barely notice each other at work. We still talk, but she has never said the special things she used to whisper to me again. I miss them terribly. I miss her terribly. Sometimes, I still say things to her, and I know she hears; sometimes she smiles. But she never replies. She knows it hurts me.

And still she never replies.

Does she know she’s too good for me...or that I can’t get better in certain ways (to compliment her)…and like a proud fine thing, allows the passage of time to work its bitter magic and dissever what once was bound?

The sound of a finger tapping one of my pint glasses roused me from my daydream. I looked up, but nothing and no one was there. From below my table, I heard a whisper, and looking down, I saw crouched at my feet a terrible, queer little creature, draped in the thickest scarlet felt you can imagine, a weird grin on its face, and a gnarled finger at its lips. It motioned me to remain quiet, but I was too speechless to utter a word. I looked around the rest of the pub, certain someone else had seen what was happening. However, no one moved or even looked in my direction. How the creature had managed to tap my glass while remaining unseen was beyond me.

I looked back down and saw it grin evilly. I shivered.

“Colin!” Its voice sounded like a deathly wheeze. It tapped my knee with a hideously long claw to get my attention.

“A-are you—”

The creature bowed slightly, doffing a strange tam-like hat. “I am Ciaran the Leprechaun! I beg your pardon, but I must not be seen; indeed, it is in the nature of my folk never to be seen by those other than whom we choose.”

The word choose made be bite my tongue. “You, and all other Leprechauns, then?” I whispered in return.

The creature spat violently. “No! Fool, know you not that we like Mankind are a vast and numerous race, possessing many clans, all similar, all from one ancestor? But some of these lines are wholly cancerous and not acknowledged by my kind. Hm-hm, yes; you understand. I am a true Leprechaun of the oldest times. We live beyond the others; we are greater, you might say. In short, we know things the rest do not. We deal in the deep magic ere the Tuatha dé Danann reigned. Red is our color, for we are old and wise. Wise in our own way. And we keep watch on you though you do not keep watch on us. We have always watched the heirs of Ulster, weak as they are, for your weakness is our need and we are bound to you. So fear not.”

I was incredulous. “Do you honor me?”

It smiled. “I do. Weak as you are, you no longer have the disability of the Ulstermen. And you have a need do you not.”

I hesitated.

“No, no,” it crooned, stroking my knee. “No lies. No hiding. The Big People are seen and known by the Little People who understand many things. It is the proper way of things. You miss someone do you not? As a weak Ulsterman, you feel weaker since her departure?”

“This is ridiculous!” I cried, half-attempting to draw attention to my table.

The creature dug its claw into my thigh. “It has always been the law between our peoples that we bargain; such is my business with you. We bargain and do not cheat; we deal creature to creature secretly. Neither betrays each other.”

Though it did not speak the consequence, yet I knew it; and dazed though I was, I did not fool myself with notions that such a consequence would not befall me if I cried out again.

“This someone,” it continued, “no longer desires you in equal measure with your own affections; it is a common fact among your race, but not with so acute an effect as in your case.”

I smiled, amused that it sought to distinguish my condition so.

“I have mentioned both our races’ mutual arrangement and in short have come to bargain. You must likewise bargain with me, agreed?”

Again I hesitated.

Agreed?” it rasped, drawing blood from my knee.

I waved my hand in parley. “Yes. Agreed,” I whispered.

The word felt like a knife in my throat.

“Good! Then let me state my proposal.” Out of his sumptuous felt coat he drew a strange, curved bottle of red glass, one of many I saw that lined the inside before he covered them once more. He held it up to me, a lurid light in his eyes. “This is a treasure inestimable in value; one I have made while watching you. It is as you suppose and more: a potion of lovers. With it, there is no regimen, no system, no catch; its truth known to Fergus mac Roich. I give it freely to you. Make her love you.”

I took the proffered bottle and stared at it in the light. “And what am I to bargain in return?” I said, trying not to stammer.

It tilted its head, brushing its wiry beard. “Your life.”

I nearly dropped the magic bottle.

“Take it. She will love you. Indeed, she will love you not only in this life but in the next. Her love will be as unbroken as was Nessa’s of old. But to possess such love…you like Fergus must die.”

So. This was my choice: to love eternally…or live unhappily. “How…when am I to do it? Am I to kill myself?” The very words that escaped my mouth left me cold.

The creature laughed hoarsely. “The way is meaningless. But the death must be…or she dies not loving you.”

My mind reeled. Disbelief paralyzed my limbs. Suddenly my thoughts became clear. “No. There is another way.”

“There is no other way,” it sneered.

“What is given may not be used—ever if needs be, and if the will is strong.”

The creature leered at me, baring its teeth.

“Not only so,” I continued, “but what is bargained to one may be bargained back to the other.”

The creature clawed my foot. “And what is gainsaid in bargaining may be punished!”

I did not blanch. “This is my bargain: I give to you this potion of lovers, to make she who loves me love you. And your bargain shall be to emerge out of darkness and shadow if indeed she loves you, to no longer crawl and tempt. Are we agreed?”

For the first time, the creature hesitated. He growled gutturally, muttering deep in his throat.

“Are we agreed?” I announced, feeling confidence surge in my veins.

The creature glanced around, fear in his eyes at being discovered. It glowered at me, hatred in its eyes at being bested. Then it drew a dagger hidden in its coat.

I flew backwards in my chair, kicking the table over as I did so. Now unmasked, the creature dashed away, seeking whatever shelter it might find. But all was too late. It had broken the law of its kind. Before we could capture it, it turned and fell on its own weapon, piercing itself in the heart.

The police did not question me much concerning the events in the pub, though I have offered to oblige them with a full written account of my discourse with the creature, as well as a public statement should they require it. I have since been questioned only once in great secrecy, and paid handsomely to remain quiet. I suppose things never change; the authorities always find some way to lie and conceal the supernatural around them whenever it rears its frightful head. Though I promised under oath not to tell a living soul of what happened that day in the pub, I have since met with Lynn and confessed everything. She didn’t speak a single word to me either in trust or doubt, merely listened to all I had to tell. Somehow, I know she believes me. She doesn’t really need to tell me she does. I have not told her about the potion. The police have said nothing, and unless they do, I will remain silent about it forever. I keep it with my at all times, in a pocket or inside the breast of my jacket on cold winter days. Sometimes I look at it, knowing as I stare into its vitreous depths that I hold in my hand Lynn’s eternal love for me.

Do I think the creature lied about her love? I don’t consider that part of our bargain.