“Hey, who owns the jalopy that’s parked outside the office?”
Annie glanced up from the paper work she’d just finished signing, a look of confusion reigning on her features. Ash was peering through the blinds, his brow furrowed in confusion. “I think it belongs to the people who run the Mexican place down the street.” She went back to finishing off the paper work that would leave them space to keep the utilities on. They’d hired a few people to work in the restaurant, to at least put a happy face on the entire establishment, but everything required documentation.
Much had happened in the weeks since the paranormal detective agency had been established. They’d put together an office, and gone about making themselves look as professional as possible right down to a phone listing. They had general decorated the place, while Ash used his retail experience to manage the restaurant. She and Sheila split an apartment, and Ash was sleeping on the third hand sofa they’d bought for the lobby.
Annie handled the books, even though he insisted he could take care of it. And they’d salted the place twice just for extra luck.
“Oh.” Ash’s eyebrow remained up, his nose pressed to the flat slate blinds. Annie couldn’t help but noticed he’d neglected to dust them. Again.
“Ash, I’m sure everything’s all right. We haven’t had a report in a few weeks…which certainly isn’t helping our business, but is definitely good news for the good souls of the people who live in this city.”
“Pft. Screw them.”
“Right,” he grumped. “I’m gonna go downstairs and make sure the cook we hired’s stopped reenacting lightsaber fights with the pepperoni.”
Annie sighed as she watched Ash go. Sheila was out at the supermarket buying them extra provisions just so they could avoid dealing with a commercial food salesmen. The lengths they were going to to keep everything together was nigh on ludicrous.
Her thoughts were interrupted when Sheila staggered through the door. She had a bag of groceries under her am, and was stained from head to toe in a bright green substance – but there was a look of victory in her eyes.
“I believe I hath found us a new case,” she declared.
Annie tilted her head. “What sort of case is it?”
Sheila dug into her grocery bag.
And from the sack she pulled out a leprechaun, bound and tied with a bit of clothes line, swearing behind a gag but filled with intense, obvious anger.
Annie managed not to scream at the revelation. Or to show obvious excitement.
Whatever Sheila had to tell her, the story must have been amazing.
“All right – so a Leprechaun. This is new news.”
Sheila squinted at him through her bangs. “This is an obvious declaration, Ashley.”
“Yeah, well – it’s not every day you see a little green guy swearing at you in Gaelic,” Ash said. The leprechaun, trapped under a mug at Sheila’s request, heard its name spoken and began to swear once more, the entire cup rattling beneath the weight of his fury.
“You just saw it?” Annie asked. “Out of nowhere?”
“He wert on the cookie shelf,” Sheila said. “Eating Ore of yos.”
“Ahah,” said Annie.
“Baby, I told you,” Ash said. “They’re just Oreos. You don’t have to do the fancy formal address thing.”
“But Sir Pepper ought to be called by his full name.”
“It’s not Sir Pepper either…oh never mind,” Ash grumbled. “Annie, this ain’t the usual brand of weird we attract. Do you know what’s up?”
“Well,” she said, “it’s possible that there’s a field of energy that’s active near the market. Perhaps it’s drawing supernatural creatures to and through it. It also might be feeding the energies of creatures into the porthole. Which might explain why this little guy’s so angry.” She rolled toward the bookshelf. “I’m going to try to learn some rudimentary Gaelic. Can you two keep him entertained?”
“No offense, red, but I’d rather go finish unclogging the garbage disposal,” Ash said.
“I shall…finish unclogging the groceries. And try Latin. Perhaps if he’s old enough, he shall have some ear for the oldest language I know.”
“Wait, you know Latin?” Ash asked Sheila.
“Oh, La!” she said brightly. “’Tis the language of Mass and of the Bible, o’course.”
“Huh. OK, I’ll be back in a couple of hours.” Ash poked the mug. “Don’t go getting up into any funny business,” he ordered the vessel.
The swearing that greeted him was less than conciliatory.
He came back to a surprisingly conciliatory scene. Sheila and the Leprechaun were chatting in Latin, and Annie was watching indulgently, her chin propped up in her palm. Ash stared at them in quiet disbelief. They were chatting up a storm so loudly he couldn’t quite hear himself.
“Ashley!” Sheila said, excitingly rising to meet him, then wrinkling at the smell utterly permeating her shirt.
“So you got a breakthrough going with Lucky down there?”
“He’s quite a personable fellow when you get to know him,” Sheila said. Annie nodded eagerly, and held out her palm – allowing him to perch upon her hand.
“So what’s the straight poop?” Ash wondered.
“It seems,” she said, “That he was pulled into this world through no design of his own. There was a blue blinding light – then nothing.”
“Great, a time sucker,” Ash muttered.
“Is that what you’re calling it?” asked Annie. “I call it a time porthole.”
“Whatever kind of fancy shmancy thing you’re calling it,” Ash grumbled. “So how do we fix it? Find the hole and say the words?”
“To put it inelegantly, yes!” Annie said.
“So basically we should look out for unicorns and huge black holes sucking shit into it,” Ash said. His voice was flat enough to make Sheila poke him in the ribs.
“Tisn’t simply unicorns but banshees and gremlins and selkies….”
“Oh my,” Ash said flatly, and then Annie poked him.
“I’m going to go downstairs and man the register,” Annie said. “Now that our friend’s given us the information we crave, one of us should comb the neighborhood looking for clues.”
“You in for this, Sheila?” Ash asked. The leprechaun had hopped into her grip and was now clinging to her thumb.
“Ye,” she declared. “We shalt find the source of what is causing this posthaste!”
“Right, right,” Ash muttered. He kept eyeing the leprechaun even as Sheila tucked him into the pocket of her shirt. He wondered if he should change his shirt, but decided they didn’t have enough time.
He’d just stay upwind until everything got a little bit sweeter smelling.
“Hey Red – does Goldy McFlintlock know where Annie hid the towels?” He was glad suddenly that they’d installed a bathroom in the office. He felt fresh as a daisy and twice as clean.
He was also completely unaware of the effect he was having on Sheila until she flushed and hid the leprechaun’s eyes. “Nay,” Sheila said. “But he has been telling me more about the portals.”
“Great, just let me get my pants on.” While he did that, she continued to chatter with him in Gallic. She tucked the leprechaun in the front pocket of her dress, and together all three of them made their way around the block, looking for further clues.
The neighborhood was big, active – filled with all kinds of people. Ash knew he was becoming known to the neighbors when people called his name and he was forced to wave back. He could get himself used to this sort of interaction. Maybe. If he kept trying.
Sheila smiled and pulled him along. She pointed out the tiny details to him and he pointed out the big ones. Like a ream of leaves changed to an unnatural color. Or a crack in the sidewalk that glimmered golden bright.
Or a whirlpool of bright violet, forming and swirling over their heads…
Ash girds himself for battle, and things get weirder.
“Okay. So you’re some sign of a big bad. A big big bad that wants to kill us all coming to the earth.” Ash was hiding behind a Packard and trying to load his gun while he asked the leprechaun this question. A lot of Gaelic blather reached his ears, but Ash didn’t really hear it. The porthole was spewing lightning. Hard not to think of anything but saving his own ass during special occasions like these.
“I do believe that he art trying to keep the Earth from crumbling in general,” Sheila said.
“How the hell did you learn his tongue, anyway?”
“I speak Scots Gaelic with people in Henry’s kingdom. How did ye think I spoke with Henry before he learned the king’s English?”
Ash shrugged. “Just…try not to get too much in the way.” That earned him a glare. “Okay, forget it, get in the way, just try to help me out. Try not to go evil again.” She kicked his ankle. “Hey!”
Ash didn’t entirely know what he was going to do, actually. In fact he was a little bit panicked about the whole situation. Maybe he’d say the magic words, and they’d actually work this time.
Of course, the second he had that thought, a rather large tiger dropped in his path from the portal, blocking his progress.
Why not? “Here, pussy, pussy….I won’t hurt ya none…”
The big cat roared at him. Of course it did. “Fine, let’s have it your way!”
Before he could grab his saw, Sheila prodded his back. “Look!” she hissed
The army of leprechauns scampering toward him was enough to make him grab Sheila and run in the opposite direction.
They hid behind the dumpster for an hour. That was long enough for Sheila to get mad at him. So mad that she elbowed him in the waist and told him it was time for them to go.
“Go where? How do you even make these things reverse?”
“Mayhaps ye might ask Annie?” she said.
“Huh. Okay, fine, sometimes you do come up with good ideas.”
Annie had broken away and done the right research, knowing instinctively that the porthole situation would be rather overwhelming for Ash, that the memories would make him run. She pronounced the incantation for him carefully over the phone.
“You have to speak it?” Sheila hissed.
Ash snorted. “I happen to be a cunning linguist.”
“Please stop making dirty jokes and pay attention,” demanded Annie. She repeated the incantation for Ash twice, and he understood it, as much as he could. When called upon to, he chanted it into the sky as Sheila clung to his leg, their hair whipping against the violent wind.
There was a flash of lightning that nearly blinded the both of them.
And then silence.
The magic in the world had gone silent. Hell, the traffic had gone silent. Ash made the first and only noise he could – quiet cursing as the leprechaun bit at his fist in a bid to be free.
“Well,” he said, “I guess that seals the porthole. But what are we going to do to keep it that way?”
“And why is our leprechaun friend still with us?” Sheila asked.
Ash considered the little guy quietly. “There’s only one answer for that one. And as weird as it is to say it, I think we have to go there. To the library!”