Friday morning, I could almost feel the basement pulling at me, so I dove in without delay. I drove boxes to the Goodwill and forced Mom to sort through mementos and books. We cleared shelves and ditched discards. As we labored, the basement was still, tamed either by my ruthless disposal of its goods or by Mom’s familiar presence.
After an hour, though, Mom disappeared. “I can hear that the washing machine stopped,” she observed. “I’d better hang up those pants before they wrinkle. Don’t you need a break?”
“No thanks,” I called as she clambered out. A sudden breeze whipped the door closed behind her, and as if in echo, the bookcase behind me creaked. I turned to find it tilting precariously, a box of books slowly inching its way toward my head.
“Stop it!” I demanded, shoving the carton back into place and nudging the bookcase erect. “It’s almost as if the place is haunted,” I muttered under my breath.
Half an hour later I’d worked my way up under what would have been the eaves if the basement had been an attic. Here, the ground sloped toward the ceiling so I had to walk crouched over for fear of grazing my head on nail ends sticking through from the floor above. In this shallow workspace, I made some small headway, organizing Mason jars and labeling boxes of Christmas tree ornaments.
At last, I stood, a box of discards in my arms, and straightened too far. My head banged painfully against the floor joists, making me swear and drop back down into a crouch so I could feel through my thick hair for the liquid signs of blood.
“He doesna like it when you take his things, lassie,” came a voice from behind me, and my head spun around to take in a most unusual sight. Perched atop a wicker picnic basket in one corner was what can only be described as a leprechaun—a small, cheery, red-bearded man dressed solely in green and decked out with four-leafed clovers. I blinked, but the image didn’t fade and I was forced to conclude the man was not a result of my recent head-banging.
“What are you doing here?” or “Who are you?” would have been more scientific responses to this intruder into my basement, but I found myself saying, instead, “You can drop the accent. Leprechauns don’t live in dirt basements. What are you—a gnome? A dwarf?”
The pseudo-leprechaun frowned, and before my eyes his clothes faded to a dusty olive, his beard to curly brown. The clovers, I could have sworn, turned into camel crickets and hopped away, but I wasn’t close enough to be sure. Despite the transformation, he only shrugged and smiled again.
“I thought you liked Celtic legends, figured you’d be more likely to believe in me if I looked a bit stereotypical,” he said, and his eyes twinkled mischievously.
“I did like Celtic legends, but English ones, not Irish. And that was when I was twelve. I’ve changed. Didn’t you see me put L’Morte D’Arthur in the Goodwill box?” I demanded, feeling petulant since I had to forcibly restrain myself from stamping one foot in impatience. And why assume he knows any of this? my logical mind asked. What am I doing talking to a total stranger in my mother’s basement?
“Well, you haven’t been around much lately,” the ex-leprechaun said in his own defense. “Anyway, it doesn’t matter. You’ve seen through my disguise. Are you willing to take my advice?”
“Advice on what?” I asked defensively.
“On this.” He spread his arms wide, encompassing the piles of life’s debris. “Leave it be. Didn’t you notice the warnings?”
“So it’s you who’s been throwing things at me!” I exclaimed. Abruptly, my sense of childish wonder fled and I was angry. Trust a mythological figure to make it hard to get stuff done. “I might have known. No, I’m not going to leave it be. Why should I give up when I’ve got two and a half more days to make some headway? I…”
He waved his hands furiously and began to object, but I raised my voice and overrode him.
“I’m going to make sense of this place…” I began—
“Don’t!” he yelled—
“…if I have to spend every waking hour. I’ll…”
“No! You’re standing on the…”
“…clean this place up if it kills me!”
“Salamander,” he finished lamely, his voice now meek and resigned. Despite myself, I looked down at what should have been dirt floor. The ground wiggled a little, and a rock mound slid aside to reveal one golden eye.
“Challenge accepted,” it intoned, and went back to sleep.
Stay tuned for part 4, coming soon….