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Posted: 03 Jan 2005, 19:36
CelticDao piped up just then: "Now wait just a cotton-picking minute, there Mister Pooka! You seem to have a rather serious discrepancy in your little tale here!"
All the folks turned their attention to the flute-slinger, looking somewhat skeptical.
"OK, you have this big picture here, with the dark big-boy Pooka's, and the colourful little-girl Pookas, and I sort of cheated a bit and read ahead, and there's almost NO colourful little-girl Pooka's in the picture, at all."
Selene gave CelticDao "the look", and queried "And just what's your point, and what are you even DOING here - you have the most boring shoes in the group?"
CD held his arms up and said "Peace! I just KNOW the story has a...
...a TYPO! Why, all the Pooka's I saw on the Caprock were all different colors, and not a dark one among them! There's a whole GAGGLE, er, um, MURDER, er, no, that's not right, um, a POD - aw, heck there's a whole MESS of them little girl Pooka's hanging out in Western New Mexico, and I can PROVE it!"
"Well," said Selene, "no doubt, you will get your chance to prove that statement, but right now we are in the middle of a Crisis of Faith. Where DO you get those boring shoes, anyway?"
Posted: 03 Jan 2005, 20:13
“Your questions shall be answered, CelticDao, but you must be patient,” said the pooka.
Time then seemed to stand still in the shadowy crypt, the only sound to be heard was the sound of Beith’s weeping and the scratching noise of Crow’s pencil as he wrote in his notebook. The old reporter paused and looked up, seeing that the friends were glancing furtively at each other’s feet.
Beith, head in hands, sat barefooted on the floor. She’d taken off her stiletto-heeled, periwinkle pooka pumps and flung them against the north wall.
Crow watched as the pooka walked over to the shoes, picked them up reverently in his teeth, walked to the coffer and placed them inside. Then, one by one he took each shoe that Beith -- in her frenzy -- had pulled from the coffer and placed it back inside. When he had finished, at his direction, Billy Joe Bob and CelticDao put the lid back on the coffer. But for the sound of Beith’s weeping, all was again silent.
Mandahr and Laurel were again blocking the light as they leaned over the hole in the ground, but no one seemed to care. Indeed, the darkness seemed most appropriate after the horror they had just discovered.
Selene recovered first, and the junior administrator walked over to stand beside the pooka as she gently sought answers to the questions that had occurred to her.
“And so Seamus MacLoafer instigated a genocidal campaign against female pookas, all for the making of designer shoes? Why were only female pookas hunted?”
“Alas,” replied the pooka, “Only the female of our species possesses the supple skin and varied colors that vain humans desire for their footwear. To satisfy this human need for more and more shoes, this horrible man – curse his name – and his gangs of hunters descended on our herds, year after year, slaughtering the females, many thousands at this very place, the Burren, which is our ancestral breeding ground. The hunters could always be assured of finding a good number of us here, and it is here that they would lie in wait.”
“But these shoes in the coffer,” asked Selene, “How did they come to be here?”
“Male pookas put them here,” replied the pooka. “They are all that remains of our mates, our daughters, our sisters. Whenever we see a person wearing pooka-hide shoes, we perform what you’ve come to call ‘playing a mischief’ on that person. We will take the human for a ‘ride,’ steal their shoes and bring them here for proper burial. Verily, you are standing on sacred ground. This place – this breeding ground – has become our burial ground.”
Saille took up the questioning: “And so whenever a pooka does a mischief to a person, it is because that person was wearing pooka shoes?”
“No,” the pooka shook his head sadly. “That is not the only reason. We pookas are mischievous by nature, and we play jokes on a whim. Perhaps that has contributed to our undoing, for if we only did mischief for the purpose of recovering the remains of our loved ones, it is possible that you humans would have noticed and done something about the slaughter.”
“Golly. None of this was in Gwers 973,” said Kernos. “I must talk to Philip.”
Branbeith had a question: “But you can talk,” she said to the pooka. “Why have you remained silent about this horror until now?”
“Fear,” replied the pooka. “Fear of you humans has caused us to be silent. We are a fun-loving species and our females were being slaughtered for their hides. Our first reaction was simply to try and hide, but we can only breed in this one place, and so each year some of us came back, and each year gangs of hunters were waiting, and more of our females were murdered, until there are so few left … so few. And so now you rarely find any female pookas and no foals at all. The only contact most humans have with a pooka anymore is a negative one, when a male steals back a pair of shoes, for instance.”
CelticDao was hopping up and down, demanding to be heard. “But I told you that I’ve seen with my own eyes hundreds of multicolored pookas on the caprock in New Mexico. That must mean they’re all females, and all this is a lot of hoakum!”
“No,” said the pooka sadly. “You see, when pookas became scarce here in Europe, we tried moving to North America, and when the hunters pursued us there, we came up with a plan, a plan that didn’t work. With help from some friends, male pookas dyed their skin and tried to set a trap in New Mexico for the hunters. But the hunters weren’t fooled for long. Some males were slain, but the hunters soon learned that the skins were dyed, and not at all suitable for the making of shoes. And so, CelticDao, that day on the caprock you did not see female pookas. You saw male pookas in drag. You are lucky that you weren’t attacked; we might have taken you for a hunter.”
“Pooka,” said Kat Lady, “You said that Beith was both your doom and your hope. What did you mean by that?”
“It is written in the Pooka Prophesies that a chaotic Irishwoman who had been an unwitting contributor to the slaughter would one day help bring about the salvation of our species,” replied the pooka. “Here before you sits that Irishwoman. I first saw her months ago on Tenerife when she helped attack the evil GreenDruid. I saw then that she was wearing stiletto-heeled beach sandals made from pooka hide, but I was somehow able to restrain myself from taking revenge on her, perhaps because I sensed her inherent goodness. After the battle I let myself be taken by Billy Joe Bob to Texas, because I knew that there, far away from Ireland, I would have plenty of time to research this woman and try to learn if my suspicions about her were true. And so I consulted telepathically with someone who has been a pooka friend for many years. We asked many questions about this Beith, and slowly, together, my friend and I became more certain that it is she who is foretold in the Prophesies.”
Beith looked up with her tear-stained face. “You’ve been inquiring about me? You’ve been talking with someone about me? Who?”
“Someone you all know,” replied the pooka. “One of the greatest friends to the pooka is none other than the one you know as Gladys.”
Beith jumped to her feet. “And it was Gladys who gave me the map that led me here!” she exclaimed.
“Yes,” replied the pooka. “But our plans were incomplete. Unexpectedly, the rut took hold of me before you could be contacted. The last communication I had from Gladys was that she would try to talk to you, to make absolutely certain that you were the one mentioned in the Prophesies. It was she who drew the map and made it look like an ancient document. We feared telling you too much too soon because you wouldn’t believe it. You had to be shown the truth, and Gladys devised a plan that would bring you to this place so that you could be shown. It is a miracle that we all arrived here at the same time. Truly, that fact is the final proof that you are the one spoken of in the Pooka Prophesies.”
Crow was trying to keep up. He’d just written down the words “… too much too soon because you wouldn’t believe it,” and he thought to himself that Beith certainly wouldn’t be alone on that score. He knew he didn’t believe any of this himself, and he was right here watching the whole thing unfold. There was no way any reader of The Pagan Press would swallow this crazy yarn. Crow doubted that his editor would even allow it in print. What a total waste of time. The old reporter told himself that he should have stayed home and endured a visit from his mother-in-law; even that would have been preferable to this. Sighing, he tried to shake some life back into his cramped writing feathers, because Beith was talking again.
“Yes, I WILL save the pooka species, I will, I will, I will, but I don’t know how! Oh, won’t somebody please help me know what to do?”
Posted: 03 Jan 2005, 20:27
"Aw, c'mon Beith! We have an expert on that right upstairs!" Said CelticDao...
And the shadow retreated from the opening above, as Mandahr knew exactly who CD was talking about...
Pooka hide was not always rarer than Rhinoceros horn, but Mandahr knew well what the greed of humans could do to the future of your species.
Posted: 08 Jan 2005, 05:21
It was Kernos who brought them back to the immediate problem. “Yes,” he said, “I’m sure Mandahr can teach Beith a thing or two about organizing a pooka protection program, mounting an ad campaign, getting some ecological studies funded, and so forth, but don’t forget that this particular pooka, right here, right now,” he waved an arm at the pooka in their midst, “needs a mate.”
Silence descended on the room. No one disagreed with Kernos’s assessment, but no one had any idea what to do about it.
At that moment, Mandahr called down to them.
“Hey, are you planning to spend the night down there? It’s starting to get dark.”
It was apparent that staying in the chamber was not going to solve anything, so they began to think about how to get out. It was no problem, shinnying up that rope, for Kat Lady—kats are good at climbing. And CelticDao and Billy Joe Bob had no trouble with it, either. The avians, of course, simply flew out, as did the pooka in his eagle form. The rest of them had to tie the rope around their waists and be pulled out, one by one.
“How unceremonious,” grumbled Kernos, as he stumbled out of the opening onto the rocky soil of the Burren, now tinged with the colors of the sunset.
“I’ll say,” agreed Selene, checking her pumpkin medallion and her body for damage. She’d been bumped about somewhat on the trip up and her dignity had suffered mightily. Still, she reflected, if Billy Joe Bob hadn’t hauled her out she’d have been stuck there in a pooka grave, so she didn’t complain further. “Well, not to plagiarize Al Stewart, but ‘the bus and the tourists are gone.’ What say we go look for a town—that road over there must go someplace.”
“Oh, of course it does!” said Beith. “Ballyvaughan is just up the road a few kilometres—the coach I was on went right through there on our way to Poulnabrone, which is one of the best-known of all Irish dolmens. Its thin capstone sits on two 1.8m high portal stones—”
“Coach?” asked Billy Joe Bob in an aside. “You don’t mean t’say they have stage coaches here in Ireland?” He was plainly skeptical.
“She means ‘bus,’” whispered Selene. “Don’t interrupt her when she’s lecturing—you know how she gets.”
But Beith had heard and she stifled a sigh. Plebeians, they were, all of them, with no sense of history. But they were also her dear friends… “Well, we don’t need to talk about that now. Let’s go find a pub and get a Guinness and, Mandahr, maybe you can start telling me what I need to know about saving the pookas from extinction.”
“That’s all well ’n’ good,” said the irrepressible Billy Joe Bob, “but looks t’me like the first thing we need t’figger out is how to find this here pooka a lady fren a’fore he gits plum crazy. Ain’t good for a feller to be without a lady.”
Kat Lady twitched a whisker, her feline senses detecting something left unsaid, but before she could ask anything, Beith was talking again.
“Well, I don’t see one just appearing here now, do you? So let’s—”
But the pooka, whose eyesight was much better than any human’s, and who had been watching a pair of shapes approach in the gathering darkness, suddenly yelled, “Gladys! You…you…”
“HELLO, POOKA!” bellowed the ogress, who, it could now be seen as she drew nearer, was leading a pooka whose coat was a lovely iridescent aquamarine, “I FOUND YE A GIRLFRIEND!”
* * *
It was a merry group that gathered in O’Brien’s Pub in Ballyvaughan later that evening. It had been a long hike after a very long day, and fatigue contributed as much to the laughter that issued forth from their corner as did the alcohol that was being consumed in considerable quantity.
“And did you see the look on his face when he saw that pretty little filly?” CelticDao asked with a grin, leaning back in his chair to stretch his legs toward the turf fire that burned on the hearth.
“That was priceless!” agreed Branbeith, happily. She loved fairy tale endings and this one was a classic. “Wonder how they’re getting along out there on the Burren?”
As the laughter and ribald comments subsided, Crow nursed his Connemara and wished again for his favorite Scotch. This stuff was all right, he supposed, but it didn’t hold a candle to Laphraoig. But he’d gotten such a scandalized look from Beith when he started to order it that he’d quickly changed his request. Women, he thought, grimly. You can’t live with them, you can’t live without them. He had an idea that Mrs. Crow was going to give him a hard time over his disappearance just as her mother arrived—the thought of meeting a rolling pin when he got home again was less than appealing. Maybe pookas have the right idea, he mused. A brief relationship every few hundred years…
Gladys had been telling Kernos, Selene, and Beith the details of her role in the drama and was doing her best to keep her voice down. To the credit of the staff and patrons of O’Brien’s, no one had done more than raise an eyebrow or two at the ogress when she entered with the group (the rhinoceros, raven, crow, and cat already having distracted them) but Gladys didn’t want to draw any unnecessary attention to herself outside her own domain. She’d looked over the menu here—Irish stew, smoked salmon, steaks—no crunchy black things, no slug roulade…she shook her head—No character at all here, she thought, sad for the natives who’d never experienced the wonders of the Foggy Duck.
“So you’ve been hiding female pookas for a long time?” prompted Kernos, bringing Gladys back to the subject at hand.
She nodded. “FOR THE LAST COUPLE OF HUNDRED YEARS OR SO, I’VE KEPT A FEW OF THEM IN A STABLE UNDER THE FOGGY DUCK—”
“Is that what that smell wafting up the stairs from the cellar was?” asked Beith, surprised. “I always figured it was a new batch of your cider.”
Gladys guffawed. “NO, DEARIE, THAT WASN’T CIDER! EVER SINCE THE GIRLS STARTED TO GET SCARCE, I’VE PROVIDED A SHELTER FOR THEM. WHEN GORN AND I OPENED THE FOGGY, I MOVED THEM INTO THE CELLAR. WE GO OUT FOR RIDES ON MOONLESS NIGHTS SOMETIMES SO THAT THEY CAN GET SOME EXERCISE…”
And so the tale spun out of how Gladys had become a pooka-friend and had as house guests a dozen or so of the comeliest female pookas of the age.
And a bit later, Mandahr began Beith’s instruction into how to begin and manage a successful campaign to save an endangered species. “But,” he warned her, “this is a full-time commitment. If you are to be victorious in your quest, you must be prepared to dedicate yourself to it completely.”
“I know,” Beith had said soberly, which was a wonder in itself. “And I do dedicate myself to this cause—I have caused suffering to these marvelous creatures; if it takes the rest of my lifetime, I will gladly give it if I can repair the harm that I have done. I have been thinking on this already—these female pookas need a proper place where they can be free and rear their foals in the air and sunshine. I know of a remote mountain valley here in Éire—it is very hard to reach and almost no one ever goes there. I discovered it by accident some years ago and I think it would be perfect…”
Selene said, “Beith, are you sure about this? You know how you love to be with people—won’t you be terribly lonely?”
Beith nodded. “I am sure,” she said firmly. “I can continue my studies of Irish history and folklore and assist the pookas with their needs. And, you never know—maybe Gladys will come help me once in a while and I can take a little vacation to visit with you all.” She winked at the ogress, who grinned back at her.
The others in the group were gradually won over. Although they all hated to lose their dear Birch, they could not deny that here was a job that needed doing and that Beith would make an excellent pooka management specialist.
The evening was winding down at last. The supper dishes had all been cleared hours ago and everyone was working on what would surely be the last beer of the night. Thoughts of hot baths and a long sleep were on everyone’s minds.
Everyone, that is, except Billy Joe Bob. He’d tried to take part in the banter but his heart just wasn’t in it. The barkeeper had never heard of the Lone Star he’d tried to order; heck, they didn’t even know about Shiner Bock! He stared morosely into the dregs of his Guinness. Strange stuff, he thought. Jest like everthin’ here…
Kat Lady touched him with a soft paw. “Hey, Billy Joe Bob,” she said, “why so quiet tonight? Your guy found a new girlfriend!”
“Yeah,” he replied sadly, “an’ my girlfriend found a new guy.”
Posted: 08 Jan 2005, 05:28
Billy Joe Bob stretched as best he could within the confines of his wheelchair and looked at the young, expectant faces of his grandchildren. The children's parents had dropped them off for a visit on Christmas Day while they went to a party. At age 92 and for the last five years a resident of Moe's Shady Acres Nursing Home in Muleshoe, Texas, the old cowboy wondered if this might be his last Christmas.
His mind wandered a lot these days, and right now he was thinking about how this Common Room sure didn't look very Christmasy. The staff hadn't allowed a Christmas tree inside, something about some residents being allergic to pine needles, and so the busy nurses and orderlies had just strung a few lights onto an ornamental potted tree that had been wheeled in from the patio. In fact the only things in the room now, besides himself, was one old woman snoozing on a sofa across the way, and his three grandkids: Martha, 12; Sarah, 9; and little Luke, 5.
"C'mon, grandpa, finish the story," said Sarah.
"Well darlin', the story is plum finished, there ain't no more to tell."
"Of course there is, grandpa," said Luke. "What happened to the pookas, and what happened to all those other people and ogresses and animals?"
"Well, most of the people got old, just like I done," answered the old cowboy. "Except for Beith, of course, because not only is she of the Sidhe, but she also got blessed by them pookas for her years of service to 'em. She's total committed to savin' em, and she disappeared with 'em into a hidden valley in Ireland. Once in a great while people would see her, and she'd say that Gladys had come to look after the herd for a few hours to give her a chance to get away and see old frens, but mostly people begun to doubt that she ever even existed, and I 'spose she become almost as much of a legend as the pookas themselves. As for everbody else, well, we had lots more adventures, but like I said, after awhile, most everbody started gettin' old and fallin' away, and some folks went to the Summerlands, as we all must do. I don't know what become of ever last one of 'em, but there's some of 'em that I do know about, let's see ..."
Billy Joe Bob thought about all those he'd had adventures with, and the names and faces floated into his mind's eye as if through a fog.
"Let's see now, Crow, he eventually was allowed to retire on account of The Pagan Press went out of business when most folks stopped readin' newspapers. The paper become one o' them TV stations, and that ol' boy weren't the prettiest thing to look at, so they finally packed him off. I heard he went to the Summerlands about five years ago, kickin' and complainin' ever step of the way."
"What about Laurel, grandpa? Was she our grandmother?" asked Luke. "I wish she hadn't died before any of us were born."
"Of course Laurel wasn't our grandmother," answered Martha, who, being oldest, knew at least that much, but was still curious about this other woman she'd heard her grandpa speaking about.
"Martha's total right about that, Luke," answered Billy Joe Bob. "Nope, Laurel weren't yer grandma. That Laurel played me for a fool. Do you recollect when I told ye that when we was at the Burren and a bus droved up? Well a little later, after we was all climbin' out o' that pooka grave, I started lookin' around for Laurel, and there she was, gettin' cozy with the bus driver. I asked her what she was doin', but she just turned her back and walked off with the guy, and I never seen her, nor heard from her agin. She was a real piece of work, that one was. Naw, she ain't nothin' like your Grandma Mary, who was as fine a woman as I ever knowed."
Billy Joe Bob wiped his eyes with a tissue and continued.
"Let's see now, Kat Lady won the lottery and bought herself a tiny little shack way up in the wilds of Montany. She laid in a lifetime supply of Tender Vittles, and she's gone total hermit, they say. I get a letter from little Kat-Storm ever year, and the one this year said that Kat Lady is doin' fine. Little Kat-Storm, by the way, ain't so little no more, and runs a bank in New York City. But he's a good man, Kat-Storm is, and he visits his mama regular and makes sure she's not missin' anythin'. "
Billy Joe Bob's recollections were interrupted as his daughter, Leah, and her husband, Jay, came through the front door to collect the children.
"Grandpa's been tellin' us stories!" said Sarah excitedly to her mother.
"Oh Pop," said Leah. "You're not filling these kids' heads with more of your druid stories are you? You know you were a cowboy, not a druid!"
"I was too a druid, and I still am, dang it!" said Billy Joe Bob. "And yes, I'm a cowboy, too! How do you think I got to know so much about air and earth and water and fire? Who knows the air better than a cowboy, who has plenty of room to breathe it, and who knows more about the earth than a cowboy who spends all day diggin' holes fer fence posts? And who knows more about fire than a cowboy, who works long hours brandin' them cows, or about water, when yer on a cattle drive and ye gotta take the herd acrost a river? And that's where I learnt all about them elements, and how to love 'em and respect 'em , and that's why I am too a druid! I dint just read about that stuff, I lived it!"
"Okay, okay, settle down, Pop, I didn't mean to upset you," said Leah, shaking her head sadly as she helped little Luke with zipping up his jacket. "We've got to run now. Merry Christmas, Pop, and we'll be back to see you on your birthday in June."
The sun was setting as an orderly came to wheel Billy Joe Bob back to his room. His movements awoke the sleeping woman on the sofa, and when she stirred and her blanket fell away, Billy Joe Bob saw that her pumpkin medallion showed the wear from years of hard use.
* * *
It was the middle of the night and Billy Joe Bob was coming awake because someone was helping him from bed and into his wheelchair. He thought he must be dreaming, because it was a young woman who was draped with a string of darkened Christmas tree lights. "Oh drat, " she said. "I thought those nurses would never leave the room! It's late, but not too late if we start now. Come on, here we go!"
Billy Joe Bob sat speechless as he was wheeled down the hall and out the front door. His helper assisted him into a van that was idling there under a portico. Once seated in the back of the van, Billy Joe Bob saw that the old woman was there, too, and she was, of course, Selene.
"What in tarnation is goin' on here, Selene?" asked Billy Joe Bob.
"Not sure," said Selene. "But it looks like as if we're starting on a big adventure."
With a clatter, Billy Joe Bob's wheelchair was pushed against the wall of the nursing home, and after taking a minute to disentangle herself from the string of lights, the young woman climbed behind the wheel and the van roared away.
"Go back to sleep you two," she called over her shoulder. "It's a long drive."
After a time, Billy Joe Bob felt someone shaking his shoulder. It was still dark.
"Wake up, sleepies, we're here," said the driver, who, of course, was Beith.
"Where are we?" asked Selene. "And Beith, if you're here, who's minding the pookas?"
"The pookas are fine, don't worry," said Beith. "My work with them is done, the herd is growing steadily, and Gladys can now provide what little care they still require. I felt that I could finally leave them, and besides, I have some unfinished business here. So come on now, out we go."
Billy Joe Bob saw that Beith was still young and beautiful after all these years, and as she walked between him and Selene, helping to support them both, he reached up and brushed a few leaves from her hair.
With a lonely stretch of highway behind them, the three walked up to a barbed-wire fence that gleamed under the starlight. They stared across open fields, and in the distance soon saw lights marching to and fro.
"Where in tarnation are we?" asked Billy Joe Bob. "And what's makin' them lights?"
"Why, you're a Texan and you don't even know the Marfa Lights when you see them?" laughed Beith. "And do you know what else? Crow's out there! He comes here every night and chases the lights! He never catches them, but he never gets tired of trying, and he smiles a lot these days, which is a big improvement!"
Selene cut the wire with her pumpkin medallion, which in addition to being a flashlight and a GPS device, also had a set of wire cutters. It was a handy tool, and she wondered if she'd still need it where she was going.
But then she heard the happy cawing of a crow, and with Billy Joe Bob and Beith, walked toward the Marfa Lights.
Posted: 08 Jan 2005, 15:34
Bravo Selene and Billy Joe Bob! A perfect and poignant ending. This is deserving of a place in the attic just from you and Crow's input. (OH! Pooka too!)
By the way, being a hermit is wonderful as I sit on the porch of my "shack" with my dog named Boomer (Big black Newfoundland with lots of drooling) at my feet, watching the critters on my land. Hermit life suits me.
Posted: 21 Jan 2005, 01:13
Rapturous applause! Applause! ...throws flowers and the odd shoe!...oops! no - that's verboten!
Wow! What an epic tale!!
See what happens when you leave the board for a few months.
Congratulations to everyone who took part and oh what a pleasure to have been "adminstrated" by Selene in her writing debut. Fantastic stuff Ms S! Well done! I am floored by your writing talent! And to Crow, Kat Lady, BillyBob, CelticDao, Branbeith et al...well done!
I am going to print this out and one day show it to all the occupants of O' Brien's pub in Ballyvaughan! ...maybe even embed the tale in a cleft in the Burren. You never know what creatures may happen upon it. <Banshees need something to read before settling in to a good night's wail>
The Pooka...well....I can't reveal where they are... or what they are...but this much I can tell you:
........................they make a bloody good pair of shoes!
Posted: 21 Jan 2005, 02:15
Sorry folks, I've missed loads of the stuff that's been going on round and about these ere parts of late, trying to keep Santa's Slaves in order and all that (or is that those there motor-bikelists I be thinking of??!!)
Beith pointed me in the right direction, and it was well worth the trip! Fantastic all!! Crow as always (helped along by his mate BJB!), Selene, wow!! superb, Kat Lady, CD, Branbeith, and of course the horned one!
I agree, this needs Attic-ing for prosperity, great work all!