hrey narrowed his eyes at the pale, fluorescent lights that buzzed above him. They didn’t light the drab interview room so much as make it seem greyer. He’d been in jail for two days, and in that time he’d been handcuffed, questioned, and forced to sleep on the stiffest cot in creation. It might as well have been a slab of wood, he thought, attempting to stretch an ache away. Rubbing the affected area of his back was out of the question since he was bound by the handcuffs.
He desperately wanted to turn back the clock to before he had mixed his alchemical formula and scored a mound of gold big enough to fill his house. He’d be happy to just go back to sage kindergarten as it were and endure Connie’s relentless bullying if it meant he didn’t have to be under arrest anymore.
He was in mid-stretch when the metal door to the interview room swung open. Mz. Bliss entered, followed by Chief Pearson and Sergeant Marcus. Marcus waved a signal emitter over Humphrey’s wrists as Humphrey looked around the faces in the room quizzically. The cuffs fell to the table.
Mz. Bliss crossed her arms and shifted her weight to one blue high heel. “We’re sending you home, Mr. Hobb. We have reports that suggest you aren’t responsible for the disappearance of the gold.”
“How do you know for sure?” Humphrey asked. “I’m not even sure I’m not responsible.” Mz. Bliss exchanged looks with Officer Marcus and the Chief.
Mz. Bliss cleared her throat. “There have been several reports of a diminutive male witnessed around gold coins or gold jewelry at the time of the disappearance,” she said.
The fluorescent lights seemed to buzz louder, fogging Humphrey’s brain. “Diminutive male. A small man?” he asked squinting his eyes even more.
“Yes. A small man.” Mz. Bliss confirmed, though she clearly did not want to discuss the matter further.
Sergeant Marcus, who looked like he had been fit to burst during their interchange, finally exclaimed, “Leprechauns!”
Mz. Bliss glared in exasperation at the wall above Humphrey’s head.
“You can’t be serious, can you?” Humphrey asked, genuinely wondering.
Mz. Bliss cocked her head to the side. “Truthfully, we don’t know what it is. It could be a very short sage or it could be unregistered artificial intelligence. We can’t be certain at this point. However, my town was nearly burned to the ground by fairies a few weeks ago, so we are actively considering leprechauns a possibility.”
Humphrey scratched the place where his bald spot used to be, trying to put all this information together.
“In any case, Mr. Hobb, there is little evidence that you are involved or that you even had gold to begin with.”
“Oh but I did!” Humphrey rose hastily from the metal chair. “I turned one lump of lead into a mountain of gold! Everything worked perfectly! At least, I thought it had.”
“If that is true, please retrieve your formula and return to aid Master Athalard in his gold making efforts. We’re attempting to replenish the bank’s supply,” Mz. Bliss stated.
Humphrey’s face fell and his hands went to rub the small of his aching back. ”Actually, I was quite hoping to get back to my comfortable chair and a nice pot of tea.” His eyebrows drew up, asking for permission.
“Relaxing in your chair isn’t even an option, Mr. Hobbs,” Chief Pearson said with a sympathetic smile. “Your house was looted. When word got out you were the one with the gold, people broke in and took pretty much everything.”
The news hit Humphrey hard, and the next few moments were a blur of signing digital documents, and passing police uniforms until he found himself dragging his feet on the sidewalk toward home to retrieve his formula.
Master Athalard jumped when the tubby officer knocked on the door to the work room—if you could call the dingy closet a work room.
“Brought the stuff you asked for,” the officer said, dropping a box of miscellany on the steel table in front of him. Athalard frowned as he rifled through it. The sounds of officers talking in the hallway, constant radio chatter, and angry citizens crowding the police station bounced off the walls around him, interrupting his thoughts and contributing to his sour mood.
He lifted up a hunk of dull, grey metal in front of the officer’s pudgy face. “We need one hundred times this amount to even come close to what is missing from the bank!” Athalard screeched in anger.
“You know of any more lead just lying around somewhere, tell us. Otherwise, this is what you got. The distribution center is closed for the investigation.” The officer, unaffected by Athalard’s outburst, blew a bubble of gum and popped it loudly.
“This is absurd. How am I supposed replenish the bank with only forty pounds of steel?” Athalard asked between clenched teeth. His bald head was becoming sweaty in his irritation.
“Guess you need to tweak your formula there to make the gold from thin air then, cause that’s the only thing we got plenty of, mister.” On his way out of the room, the officer whistled a jaunty tune, in celebration of this not being his problem.
Athalard shouted after him, “Air molecules aren’t dense enough to make gold from, you oaf!” He slapped the table with his empty palms. “And it’s Master not mister!”
The alchemist grumbled to himself about working in primitive conditions, as he rolled up the sleeves of his red robe. With an enchanted knife, he sliced a few chunks from the block of steel and placed them into a clay bowl. Then, taking a vial from the shelf in front of him, he dropped some of the liquid inside into the bowl. The mixture came to a roiling bubble, but he stirred it with a spoon until the bubbling abated to a simmer. He poured the shining silvery liquid into empty molds and dropped those into a steaming tank which rapidly cooled the liquid into a solid. He removed the molds with a pair of tongs and turned one upside down, emptying it out.
Athalard grasped the resulting gleaming cube with the tongs and tittered, “When life gives you steel, make gold. Master Athalard, you really have outdone yourself this time, you genius.” Then, glancing around slyly and finding himself unobserved, he slipped the nugget into the velvet pocket of his robe, right next to the shiny red apple he was saving to have with his lunch.
He gave another chuckle as he turned around, but quickly swallowed it. The molds he had filled just moments ago, they were all empty! As if all the newly created gold had just dematerialized!
“Gah!” He slammed his hands on the work table again causing the vials in the shelf to rattle.
A thought occurred to him, and he hastily put a hand in his pocket. He smiled in relief, finding the block of gold still in place.
An alert from his com-ring sounded. Amelia Levin, the town’s only reliable and unbiased journalist, sent out a news alert listing several locations where some citizens had started trading for food. She encouraged the people to bring worthy items to barter and get some farm fresh produce in exchange. Due to the credit shortage, the grocery stores had closed, and people were having trouble finding food. The empty bank had flipped life in Newburg on its head.
Normally Athalard would have thrown his leftover rib roast out for the beneficial insects to deal with, but instead he had turned it into stew and sandwiches. Though now his bread had turned moldy, and the rest of his pantry had turned bare. “I better get to the pop up stands first before the rabble takes it all,” he sneered.
Leaving the empty gold molds behind, he slunk out of the police station.
As he mounted his solohover, another alert dinged on his com-ring. It was a com-ring cast from Mz. Bliss. Athalard dismissed it, but he could hear her words echo around him as he floated past the pedestrians of Newburg.
“My fellow citizens. Newburg has entered a point of crisis. It is challenges like these that reveal the true spirit of our town. One of unity, of comradery, of community. Remember that the people struggling are your friends, your neighbors. You are someone’s neighbor too. The Golden Rule is universal and applies across all realities, so I urge you to treat others the way you would want to be treated. The government is opening up its emergency rations to help sustain our city as we continue our investigation into the occurrence at the Newburg Bank. Together we will not only endure, but flourish. Together we are Newburg.”
As she closed her statement, Athalard was hovering to the head of an exorbitantly long line at the dry citrus stand. He beeped his horn and ignored the disgusted faces as he said, “Make way for someone with something of true value to trade.” He patted his robe feeling the reassuring weight of the gold in his pocket.
Ju-Long was managing his family’s stand and frowned at Athalard as he dismounted his hover and elbowed a little kid out of his way.
“I’ll take the whole stand of oranges!” Athalard said as he proudly held out the contents of his pocket.
Ju-Long’s frown turned into confusion. “Umm, sir. I can’t trade you fresh fruit for eaten fruit.” The long-haired man pointed to the object in Athalard’s hand with a puzzled look on his face. Athalard’s eyebrows rose when he too looked at the contents of his hand and realized he was holding an apple core!
“Who ate my apple?!!?” he accused the crowd behind him that was quickly becoming outraged. Athalard tossed the core to the side, fishing through his pockets in panic. He turned out both empty pockets making sure nothing was snared in a fold. “WHO TOOK MY GOLD?!!?”
“We all want to know that, buddy. You should move to the back of the line, please, while you find something to barter with,” Ju-Long suggested. He patted Athalard on the shoulder and then said, “Next!”
Dismayed, Athalard stepped aside and turned in circles. His eyes pored over every crack in the cobblestones, trying to catch a glint of his gold. A flurry of movement between the throngs of feet caught his eye instead. He could have sworn he saw… No. The great Master Athalard, THE Alchemist, was not seeing elves. Or was he? Were the rumors about a leprechaun being seen around the gold really true? he thought as he stroked his thin moustache.
He spied the movement again disappearing behind a wood crate. Athalard paused briefly and considered. Even if it was a hallucination, he had nothing to lose by following it.
And everything to gain.
He smiled to himself and set off along the path the tiny creature had followed. Perhaps it would lead him to all the gold! And what was the other legend surrounding the leprechaun? If you caught one, it would grant you wishes. He practically laughed aloud as he scuttled along, eyes fixed to the ground.
A woman bumped into him in the middle of his hunt. Or maybe he bumped into her. It didn’t matter. In either case, she was in his way. He straightened, perturbed, and peered into the distraught eyes of a middle aged woman in a long flowing skirt, carrying picture of a little girl. “Have you seen my daughter?” the woman asked, desperate and clinging to Athalard’s wrist. “She’s been missing for two weeks, and I’m just trying to bring her home,” she said, her voice shaking.
Athalard removed her grip from his wrist and said, “No! And if you will move aside!” He shouldered past the woman and hurried through the crowded market on the leprechaun’s trail.
“Aha!” he cried as a creature jumped and scurried through the back door of a long since vacant café. He was certain of it this time; he had seen a small round head and teeny shoes.
He dove through the door and slid to the floor as he clasped his hands around the tiny person. Gasping for breath, Athalard straightened and pried his thumb up ever so slightly so as to catch a glimpse of the being inside. He couldn’t see anything but darkness. Bringing his balled up hands toward his face, he peered around inside the hole made by his removed thumb. “Empty!” he cried as he fluttered his fingers open. The tiniest laugh he had ever heard came from his left, and he caught the red bearded leprechaun doubled over in hysterics.
“Why, you….!” he growled. He made to dive at the leprechaun again, but a small gold ball bounced slowly between the two of them catching them both off guard. The leprechaun’s squealing chortle ceased, and he chased after the bouncing gold ball with open arms.
The second his leprechaun fingers touched the gold ball, it twisted open and surrounded him in a cube of bright blue light, and he was frozen inside, mid-step.
Athalard peered at the motionless creature in the box of light. “A subsonic soft tissue reactor?” he mumbled curiously to himself.
“Yes!” a female voice echoed in the sparsely furnished space. Dr. Cary Laurent trotted toward the trap, her wiry blonde hair bouncing around her shoulders. “I caught him!” she crouched down to peek at the little man and then did a victory dance.
“Now, just wait a moment. YOU, caught him?” Athalard said, folding his arms defiantly over his chest.
“Oh, I’m sorry. This must be your SSTR Trap,” Dr. Laurent said, her tone oozing with sarcasm. “Of course, I caught him!” She picked up the trap where the little man had moved from his stationary position and had thrust his hands on his hips.
“Well, it wouldn’t be in the trap if I hadn’t spotted, chased, and cornered him here! I saw him first; he’s MINE!” Athalard yelled into the woman’s face.
“Bah!” Dr. Laurent scoffed. “You just want him for the gold!”
“You can’t tell me you’re not after him for the same reason!”
The leprechaun began to pace around the light cube, studying his miniature prison.
“I am interested in him for purely scientific reasons. After all, I am the only biologist in the room.” Athalard rolled his eyes at her reasoning, but Dr. Laurent continued. “And when I get—I mean—when I find the gold for the town, they’ll have to compromise—I mean—commend me. We’ll see who has the best lab space now, Dr. Kowalski!” She shook her fist at the ceiling.
Athalard raised his eyebrows and pointed to the trap. “Excuse me, Dr. Biology. Shouldn’t the SSTR Trap be immobilizing the leprechaun’s muscle tissue?” Dr. Laurent peered into the cube just as the little man placed his palm against one side. The light fizzed out and the leprechaun hopped to the ground, giggling maniacally as it ran behind a stack of crates and disappeared.
Athalard and the doctor raced to move the crates, but it was no use. The leprechaun had vanished.
“NO!!!” Athalard and Dr. Laurent screamed simultaneously, Athalard hitting his knees and the doctor raising her fists to the sky.
When Humphrey arrived at his house, he hung his head in sorrow. Window panes had been broken out and his front door was hanging precariously by one hinge. It fell off completely when he tried to move it aside to enter. He took a long look at his empty house, the thieves had taken everything, even the saucer with the morsel of mouse cheese. He grieved especially for his comfy, wingback chair with the fabric worn away in all the right places as he shambled down the stairs to the cellar. The looters had taken his work table, but they left the broken beakers. “I guess those weren’t much use to anyone,” he said to himself. His voice sounded odd as it bounced across the vacant space.
He retrieved a scrap of paper from among the shattered beakers and unrolled it. The formula he had used to make the gold was scrawled on it in strange shapes and foreign-looking letters. As he slowly ascended the stairs, he rolled the paper up and stuffed it in his pocket so he could give it to Master Athalard later.
When he arrived back in his kitchen, he wasn’t alone. Connie, his school bully, was there, leaning against the counter, her blond pigtails seeming to pull her beady eyes away from each other.
“What do you want now, Connie?” he asked, rubbing his chin where she had set his beard on fire last month.
“Unclench Humpty,” she said. “I’ve got summin’ to show you.”
Humphrey followed her hesitantly around the corner of his house where she stopped at a boxy form covered with a cotton sheet. She flung the sheet back revealing Humphrey’s beloved wingback chair.
His jaw dropped.
“You’re always rattlin’ on about your chair in class, and how our chairs are too small for your old bum. So I been watchin’ it. I saw someone knickin it, and I wolloped em with a few stones. That showed em.” Connie smirked.
“I-I don’t know what to say,” said Humphrey, approaching a few steps and then stopping. “Thank you, Connie.”
“Thanks for givin’ me mum that gold nugget the other day. She got to spend it before it disappeared. Bought me and my brothers and sisters supper for a while.” She smiled.
“I’m glad to hear that.”
“I couldn’t bring the chair inside. I thought I’d make you do it,”
“Yes, it is quite heavy. I’ll take care of it, Connie.”
“Go on then. Go inside and have a sit in your big chair, Humpty Dump.”
“Yes, yes, I will. Thank you again.”
She made a move to punch him in the leg, and he flinched. She smiled, showing deep dimples, and ran away, her ringlets bouncing with each step.
Smiling through the effort, Humphrey dragged his chair into his otherwise empty house. He took some time positioning it just so in front of the hearth, and then, finally, collapsed in it with a sigh of deep satisfaction.