After the Civil War, when my great-grandfather Benjamin, the son of freed slaves, was a young lad of pre-pubescent age, he happened upon some leprechauns.
Benjamin was late to get home that autumn eve and decided to cut through the woods. An endeavor he was warned against doing time and again by his father. "The woods are dangerous son. Full of wild creatures, deer and other nasties," he would explain. But, boys will be boys. He had gone hunting in these woods with his father and his father's double-barreled shotgun on occasion, so he knew the direct route through. Going around would only increase the strokes he would receive for being late.
The woods take on a different apparition in the evening. Gone are the vibrant colors and wispy breezes of day and the nocturnal occupants make their "morning" known with squeals, howls and rustlings. Ben consoled himself that he would not be afraid. He did not believe himself, but he was more fearful of his father than any creature in the woods. Fast on his feet, he could outrun all the boys his age and even some older, but he cautiously stepped from the road into the soft first falling of leaves that covered the shoulder and led him into the murkiness of the woods.
Everything had taken on a somber hue. The trunks of trees were black, coarse to the touch and filled his sight from end to end. Random twigs and branches scratched at his face and arms. Looking above he could see the stars begin to shine down, but this was a moonless night, so the darkness overtook the light and the canopy of leaves blocked all except for patches here and there. He treaded lightly, letting his ears and internal compass guide him through. He stopped suddenly as something in the tree ahead moved quickly. His eyes began to adjust to the gloom slowly, but he saw it was a possum scrambling away. He gave thought that if he had his father's shotgun, they could have had meat tonight.
He began again. Keeping as quiet as he could. Giving off their rich aroma, the smell of mulching leaves saturated the air, but the leaves were still moist and gave little in the way of sound if he picked his feet up as he walked.
Then he saw it.
Just a glimmer of light to his right. Away from his path home, but strange that someone would be out here. It was an intriguing light. It didn't flicker like fire, and he didn’t smell any smoke, but it glowed just the same. His curiosity got the better of him and he went to investigate.
The closer he got to the source of the light, the more soothing the light seemed to become. Finally, about ten yards away, he took cover behind a mighty oak and peaked around. To his astonishment, there were little men sleeping around a pot of gold. Three of them to be exact. But it was the gold itself that was the cause of the light and it shone all around the clearing of leaves and thresh on which the little men made their comfort.
Realization came with an astonished, wide-eyed wonder. "These must be leprechauns," he thought to himself. This was quite strange for several reasons.
One, he thought leprechauns came from somewhere called Ireland. He was on Long Island. Two, there was no rainbow. He thought the pot of gold was always at the end of a rainbow. Third, he thought leprechauns wore green, but all of them had coats of red. Red coats with piping of gold and white trousers with pointy black shoes. And, only one of them was fat. They all had long orange beards and hair that stuck out from beneath the cocked hats they kept on their heads even while sleeping. Their faces were smooth with slumber and their breathing shallow of one in a deep sleep.
Ben remembered something else. If you can catch a leprechaun, he must grant you three wishes. He also heard that if you take your eyes off one, the leprechaun will escape or trick you in your wish. He could almost taste his dejection of trying to catch a leprechaun. He knew he was fast, but was he fast enough? A candle went off in Ben's head and he remembered something else. If you could place a piece of silver on the pot of gold without making a sound, then the pot of gold would be yours to have.
Ben began to search his pockets. He knew he had one silver dime left. He was saving it for some licorice and other sweets, but with a pot of gold, he could buy the whole store. Taking the dime between thumb and forefinger, Ben took a silent breath and moved from the safety of the tree. The clearing was about thirty feet round, so he had to cross half of that as the pot was in the middle. The three little men slept in a circle around the pot of gold, requiring Ben to maneuver between the two closets to him.
After every step, Ben paused to make sure they would not awaken. His confidence grew after several steps and the light of the gold was now shining upon him, changing his own countenance to gold. He could no longer hear the woods, but only the pounding in his own heart. Three more steps and he would be within reach. Two steps. One.
With a shaky wrist, Ben reached out to the edge of the pot, where gold coins were ready to fall. Ever closer and closer, his eyes widening with the anticipation of his prize.As he was placing the coin on the gold, ever so slightly he murmured, "Ah."
It seemed to all happen at once then. The pot began to shrink away from existence in a flash of light as bright as lightening as the leprechauns woke. The fat one screamed, "Thief! Thief!"
Ben turned in circles trying to orient himself. In that moment, he tried to grab one of the leprechauns, who quickly disappeared. As he turned to the other two, they too whisked away in a manner he could not explain even though it happened in front of his own eyes.
Suddenly he was surrounded in darkness and full of fear. The silence was broken by the sounds of the woods. Force of habit helped him to run in the direction of home.
He was so terrified, when they found him under the kitchen table the next morning, he was still wrapped in the mesh from the screen door.
They kept his dime too.