They baited the trap with a crust of bread because it was the only food left in the house. Patrick huddled behind Leon, soaking up some of his brother’s body heat. Between the anticipation and cold he needed to pee so bad he thought his eyeballs would turn yellow.
“Wish it’d hurry up ‘fore everyone wakes up,” Patrick said. He squeezed his legs together and shifted back and forth.
“Ain’t comin’ if you keep jabberin’, fool,” Leon said. He eased slack out of the string he was holding. The string led to a stick which propped up a battered shoebox. The crust sat on a dirty saucer under the box.
Ten minutes trickled by. Patrick couldn’t take it anymore. “I gotta go.”
He crept down the hallway, wincing with every floorboard creak. A stench flowed beneath the bathroom door like bad juju. Mamma hadn’t cleaned in weeks and Uncle Albert forgot to flush again. The bathtub had more rings than Mr. T, but it was cleaner than the potty. He climbed in and peed down the drain, running a little water after. The inspector-man was coming today and he wouldn’t be happy seeing pee in the bathtub.
Patrick tiptoed back down the hall and curled up behind his brother. Leon turned around, scowling.
“Back off, Trick, you gonna mess everything up.”
Something small and nimble zipped across the living room floor in a flash of gray, or was it green?
“Pull it, pull it!” Patrick yelled. Leon yanked the string and the box came down with a cardboard thump.
“We got it!” Leon said. “We got a leprechaun.”
The boys hopped up and down, hugging each other and slapping high-fives.
“I told you they was real,” Patrick said. His counselor, Mr. Doyle, had told him all about the leprechauns in their last session. He and Mr. Doyle talked about a lot of things — school, drugs, and how come his daddy left — but Patrick liked it best when Mr. Doyle told stories about growing up in Eye-or-land and chasing faeries and leprechauns. Mr. Doyle said you normally caught leprechauns around rainbows. Patrick had never seen a rainbow, but Mr. Doyle said on St. Patrick’s Day you could catch ‘em inside just fine, too.
The brothers listened to the frantic scratching inside the shoebox for a half minute before Leon carefully slid the torn cover of a phone book underneath.
“You sure this ain’t a rat, Trick?” He flipped the box right side up and raised the cover to look inside, but Patrick stayed his hand.
“You can’t go peeking at him or you lose the wish,” he said. He tightened his grip on Leon’s wrist.
“Okay, no peeking, but we better wish quick, case he gets loose,” Leon said. “What we wishin’ for?”
They’d discussed it, of course, when first planning to catch the leprechaun. Patrick wanted to wish for Uncle Albert’s brains to unscramble so he could talk again, but Leon was old enough to remember when Uncle Albert could still speak and said he just complained a lot. Leon wanted to wish for a million dollars, but Patrick worried that all the family would come swarming in like they did when Mamma got a paycheck day.
“How ‘bout a new apartment?” Patrick asked. “This one here’s nasty.”
“Yeah, I’d like that,” Leon said. “Fresh start might be good for us. Some place nobody knows so they won’t bother us no more.”
Patrick took the shoebox from Leon and knelt on the floor, holding it in his lap. “We want a new home, we want a new home,” he chanted. Leon joined in. The scrabbling noises stilled. A prickling started along the back of Patrick’s neck.
“Boys, what fool thing you up to now?” Mamma’s voice started him so badly he nearly dropped the shoebox. She shuffled into the room, her oversized bathrobe cinched tight across her bony chest. “Damn heat’s off again. You put your sweaters on, hear me?”
“Mamma, mamma, guess what we caught?” Patrick said. “We got us a leprechaun.”
Mamma’s eyes narrowed and she moved toward them, two fingers crooked.
“Give it here.”
Just as Mamma took the box, there was a knock at the door. Mamma ignored it and held the box up to her ear, one hand firmly on the makeshift lid. The knocking persisted. Balancing the shoebox in one hand, she unlocked the door. Without warning, a man in a grey sport coat, carrying a clipboard, walked in.
“Mrs. Johnson? I’m Herman Volker with inspections.”
The man made a quick survey of the room and started making notes.
“County Services requires a certain, ahem, standard of maintenance to continue receiving support,” Volker said.
“It’s not my fault, Mr. Volker,” Mamma said, her voice rising. “Y’all put us up in this drafty old box and it’s all we can do to stay from freezing. How I’m supposed to keep steady work with the children home sick half the time?”
“I suggest blankets, Mrs. Johnson.”
Mr. Volker didn’t notice it, but Patrick distinctly heard Mamma’s last straw break. Her last straw wasn’t particularly strong to begin with and it didn’t take much to snap. She read the inspector up one side and down the other, her voice banging off the dingy walls like pots and pans being flung around in a tornado.
“Besides,” Mamma finished, “County says we don’t have to stay here if there’s vermins. And we got vermins.” She thrust the shoebox under Volker’s nose. The leprechaun resumed its violent scratching. Volker raised the trembling clipboard in front of him like a shield.
“Okay, Mrs. Johnson, you’ve made your point. I’ll see about finding you a new place. Somewhere midtown. Maybe near a park. Please, just take it away.”
Mamma handed the box back to Patrick. She dropped her angry face for a moment and winked.
“You done good,” she whispered.
That afternoon, Patrick took the shoebox to an alley behind their apartment. He removed the cover, but didn’t dare peek.
J.C. Towler spins tales of mystery, suspense, science fiction and is particularly fond the deep, penetrating horror tale. The Outer Banks of North Carolina is home which is odd considering he’s afraid of the ocean and doesn’t eat fish. His latest sci-fi/horror story “Experimental Blues” will appear in the upcoming Dreamspell Nightmares II from L&L Dreamspell. Two of his flash stories, “Legends Collide” and “Purse Things“, were selected for EDF’s The Best of Every Day Fiction Two.