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The Little Man
It all started when big Darren Zielinski was injured at the paper mill. A nervous greenhorn was running the hydraulic hoist and managed to drive a steel core into the back of Darren’s skull. The walnut-cracking whack and stifling darkness were simultaneous. When the lights fuzzed back on in his head, things seemed a little off plumb. In the weeks after, everyone he talked to said that by rights he should have died; somehow it didn’t surprise Darren that none of them seemed to feel all that bad about it.
His recovery was slow, but the mill was quick to rush him back to work. Memory problems plagued him, and he just couldn’t seem to think straight anymore. The company said they had enough light duty to keep him busy for a long time, which made him swear defiantly. It was the type of work he hated, checking inventories, sorting order sheets, stocking labels. It wasn’t the kind of work a real man was designed for. And on top of that, the doc, thinking a seizure was imminent, had Darren’s license suspended. Now to keep his crummy job he had to ride the bus.
Darren had been riding the bus for a week before he noticed the little man. The man couldn’t have been more than three feet tall. He had a graying red beard that ringed his face but no mustache beneath his pointed nose. His eyes were beady and an eerie shade of emerald. He wore a finely tailored green coat that was completely out of fashion, with a matching green bowler hat, and black shoes with ridiculous gold buckles.
Once he’d discovered the little man, Darren couldn’t take his eyes off him. Each day Darren would pick a seat nearby just so he could stare. The little man was always on the bus before Darren got on, and stayed on after Darren got off. He seemed to have a perpetual frown on his face. The only other thing of note was a large green duffle bag that was always on the seat between the man and the window.
One day Darren sat behind the man in the hopes of maybe seeing what was in the duffle bag. For several minutes he stared through the slat in the seatback at the little man’s hand resting on the bag.
“Most people who notice me have the decency not to gawk. I’m supposing now you’ll be wanting my gold or three wishes or some such nonsense.”
A flood of excitement washed over Darren. The man was speaking with a thick Irish accent.
Instinctively, Darren reached over the seat and put his hands on the man’s shoulders. He imagined a black pot brimming with round gold coins and the little angry man dancing a furious jig. A nervous giggle escaped from Darren’s throat.
“You think I’m a leprechaun. Don’t you?” the little man said spitting the words up into Darren’s face. “What kind of sane person believes in leprechauns? Hm? And why would a leprechaun be riding the city bus? I work for Evergreen Realty, you ass.”
“Uh…” Darren sat back. The man’s verbal attack seemed to momentarily clear Darren’s head. He couldn’t believe he’d actually grabbed the man.
“I’m so sorry. I… I have a head injury… from work.”
“Yes, excuses, excuses. It’s not easy being me, but I guess I should be thankful that I’m not some meat-pawed buffoon like you.” The little man glared; his eyes were screwed almost all the way shut.
“Really, I’m sorry,” Darren said. “What can I do to make it up to you?” Ever so slowly the little man’s expression softened.
“Well, I suppose there’s no real harm done. Honestly, what would possess you to think such a thing anyway? Are you really that detached from reality?”
Darren tried to center himself for a moment. If only everything didn’t have that persistent skew that was disrupted by an occasional funhouse-mirror distortion to his vision. “I suppose it was a fantasy. I… for a moment I just… I just wished you were really a leprechaun,” he blurted.
“And you really wished I had a pot of gold too?” Now the little man had a gapped-toothed smile on his face.
“Yes… I really wished you had a pot of gold just so I could see it.”
“Well, there’s no harm in wishing such things, but this is reality. However bad your life is, just think of what I’ve had to put up with. I can’t ride the bus without some numskull thinking I’m a leprechaun,” the little man said. “By the way, don’t you usually get off the bus by now?”
Darren swung his head around. At first he couldn’t tell where they were; then he realized he was at least five blocks past the mill.
“I wish I didn’t have to worry about that stupid job,” he said leaping to his feet and pulling the cord. “I’m really sorry,” he said back to the little man. “I’ll make it up to you tomorrow. I’ll bring you a donut or something.” The bus pulled to the curb and slid to a stop with the whoosh of the brakes.
“Why would you be on the bus tomorrow?” the little man asked, unzipping the duffle bag.
“Same reason as every day. On my way to work.” Darren said as he stepped off the bus.
“I don’t think that’ll be a problem, laddie.” He hollered as the door closed shut.
Suddenly Darren was nauseated by an intense feeling of dread. He felt numb and tingly. Something the doctor said floated on the edge of his memory. He strained to see the little man as the bus pulled away. Through the brain-searing sunlight reflecting off the bus windows Darren thought he could see the little man standing on his seat and doing a jig. There was an angry, evil sneer on his face, but he was laughing and holding up a black pot of gold for Darren to see.
micheledutcher - It's fun to take an ancient mythological creature and update it. I like having an open ending to the tale.
r.tornello - I like it and wondered what happened the next day. Sort of a story i would write. I like the idea of reflecting on a good short story with myriad possible endings. Thanks, RT
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