Our minds are quite adept at dismissing perceptions that have no place in the expected world. Brown basement spirits and tremendous salamanders surely had no place in my recent science-based curriculum, so by the time Mom and I joined up with my brother and sister at a local waterfall, I had completely forgotten the strangeness of the morning. We walked through clumps of purple hepatica flowers pushing up through last autumn’s leaf litter, then we waded through the frigid creek and climbed up the wet rocks to frolic in the dry space behind the falls. Our hooting laughter even awoke a dozing peeper who joined in the odd daytime chorus.
Back at home, though, I became increasingly irritated. But I figured the emotion was due to dehydration, dosing myself with several glasses of water before tucking myself in for an early night.
I woke suddenly in total darkness, feeling the bed shiver beneath me. I often wake like that, thinking I must be feeling a slight earthquake, although usually it’s just a dream. This time the bed shook again, gently, but I turned over anyway and went back to sleep.
“It certainly took you long enough.”
He was waiting inside the basement door, leaning nonchalantly against the wall where the outside daylight streamed harmlessly past, leaving him in shadow. I’d taken my time that morning, reading the newspaper over breakfast and brushing my teeth slowly with book in hand. All because I had felt the basement tugging at me more strongly than ever before. I’d held back as long as I could, until my head was pounding and my stomach queasy, and it had put me in a piss-poor mood.
“It’s no business of yours,” I brushed him off, and turned away to see what sense I could make of the camping supplies.
But he persisted, leaping atop a cooler as I lifted a sleeping bag off the floor. “I was going to offer to help,” he said, and I couldn’t tell from his voice whether the offer was still open. Well, it must be, or he wouldn’t be peering down at me. Unless, of course, he just enjoyed gloating.
“If you want to help, you can start by sorting out that rope,” I told him, pointing to a tangled mess of twine and string of various thicknesses.
The ex-leprechaun snorted, but began, absentmindedly, to pick at the tangle. “You’ll never get it done like this, you know. And the longer you spend down here, the more hold the salamander will have over you.”
Surveying the basement, I was forced to agree. This was a job for ten people, not for a vacationing biologist and an argumentative dwarf. Even so, his words drove me crazy. “And I suppose you have a better solution?”
“As I said, I could help.” He snapped his fingers and a grinding noise prompted me to spin around in time to see a mass of carpentry tools reorganize themselves, becoming clean and shiny before my very eyes even as a host of bent and rusty nails leaped for the trash box.
“And in exchange you want my firstborn child, I assume,” I said waspishly, turning back to the little man and doing my best to raise one eyebrow. “I’m not planning on having children any time soon, so that wouldn’t do you much good.”
“I’d think of something,” the ex-leprechaun said contentedly.
“No thank you,” I snapped. “I don’t need your help. And if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got work to do.”
Stay tuned for part 5, coming soon….