“Tell me a story before I go to bed” (For the very young)

Mary and the Gatekeeper

MARY SLIPPED and fell for the fourth time. Wild wind tried to push her back down the mountain as the rain ran rivulets around her. Rua, covered in mud ran toward a large rock

Grabbing a tuft of grass, she pulled herself in Rua’s direction. In the shelter of the rock Mary, removed one wellington boot and let the mud run slowly out of it.

She glared at Rua. “Don’t even think of shaking yourself in here!”

Rua sneezed and shook his body, sending mud and water over the rock, Mary and the only piece of dry ground on the mountain.

The dog reached out and licked her cold wet foot. “Thank you, wait until I get the other boot off and you can do that one too.”

Black clouds rolled down the mountainside blocking out the sun and turning the day into night.

She sat staring out at the wall of rain that swept in any direction the wind dictated. “I’ll never find the sheep in this weather, I just hope they can find shelter.

“Where did this horrible rain come from? Last night, the sky was clear, not a cloud to be seen. It looked like the mountain top was on fire in the setting sun. Now look at it!”

As if understanding, Rua licked her face then, growled at something Mary couldn’t see. He moved further back under the shelter of the rock, the hair on his back standing on end.

“What is it Rua, what can you see?” Mary peered into the turbulent blackness. She could see nothing and the only sound was the angry wind.

Rua calmed down – he gave a weak whimper and rested his head on his paws.

“Mary! What are ye doing here?”

Mary jumped, banging her head on the rock above her. “Michael, I’ve told you before, don’t creep up on me!” She knew the voice well.

It was her friend Michael the Leprechaun, Caretaker of the mountain.

Rubbing her head she turned in the direction of the voice. She was about to tell him off when she realised he was not alone.

Beside him stood another small figure no bigger than himself, covered in a black cape and a hood that concealed the face. Rua, who always took a great interest in Michael seemed to be asleep.

“Who – who’s your friend?”

Michael stared at her. “You didn’t answer me child – what are ye doing up here on a day like this.”

Shocked by the coldness of his voice, Mary answered, words tumbling out. “I brought the sheep up here a week ago because the early summer grass is good for them and this morning Grandma sees this great storm up here and sends me to get them.” She took a big breath. “Why is it raining up here Michael, and the sun shining down at the house?”

The wind dropped to a whisper. It became so quiet – Mary could hear Rua breathing. Michael looked out at the steady drizzle as he puffed on his pipe. At last he spoke. “Ye better forget the sheep and take yerself and the dog off this mountain for a while.”

“I will not! Why should I listen to you? I could lose all my sheep and what would Grandma say…. Of course, If you told me the reason why, I might go quietly.”

Sparks flew into the air. “Why ye cheeky…” The hooded one touched Michael’s arm.

Mary looked in amazement at the figures, not even as tall as her wellington boot, having a heated argument without saying a word. Arms waved in the air, shaking of heads and finally, nodding of heads.

Solemnly Michael turned to Mary. “‘Tis against my better judgement but I concede…”

“What does concede mean?”

“What? Don’t they teach ye anything at school. It means – to agree, to agree to someone wiser than meself. Will ye stop interrupting!”

Mary noticed the hooded ones’ shoulders moving up and down. “Sorry.”

“This,” Michael bowed formally, “is the Gatekeeper. Now stop! Don’t ask me questions till I’ve finished. The Gatekeeper has heard of ye, Mary of the red hair and how ye love the mountain – so she…”

“She?”

Michael stared.

“Sorry.” Mary put her hand over her mouth.

“So she – feels ye should know what’s going on.”

Mary turned her attention to the Gatekeeper. It was Michael who spoke.

“A long time ago there was a terrible battle on this earth. The Strange Ones tried to take over everything, destroying all in their path. A great darkness descended on the land and the birds fell from the sky because The Strange Ones sucked the very air needed to breathe and fly, some animals died where they stood.”

Mary sat horrified. Could this be true? Michael never lied to her before, so why would he now. The Gatekeeper nodded at the words, never revealing her face.

Michael continued.

“Where they walked, if you could call it walking, the ground was left black and sterile. Nothing ever grew. There were but a few pockets of ye humans left. But – there were giants, fairies and Leprechauns. Separately we fought bravely but we were losing our powers. The Wise Ones called us all together and side by side, over many years we finally sent them back under the ground where they belong!”

Michael paused to see if Mary was listening. She noticed Rua staring intently at the Gatekeeper. Mary turned to Michael when he coughed.

“There are nine Gates. One of them is here on this mountain. Every now and then, The Strange Ones try them, to see if the Power still holds. Through time they weaken, that is why we have the Gatekeepers. Did you see anything strange on the mountain last night?”

Mary shook her head. “Only the setting sun turning the mountain top into a ball of fire, it was beautiful.”

Michael smiled grimly. “Yer just in time.” He said to the Gatekeeper.

“What ye saw Mary, was the beginnings of The Strange Ones trying this Gate. ‘Twas not the sun ye saw, but a fire. They were trying to burn all around the

Gate, for they hate anything that grows. What ye see out there,” Michael pointed to the falling rain, “is the second stage, wash all living things away.”

Mary thought hard, then changed her mind. She didn’t want to know what stage three might be.

The Gatekeeper gestured to Michael. They went into a huddle and Mary could see Michael becoming upset. “I don’t like it. No human has done anything like it since – since.” His voice trailed off. He turned to Mary.

She had never seen him look worried.

“Mary,” he said gravely, “‘Tis the Gatekeepers request that ye come with us to the Gate. She says, with yer love of the mountain ye’ll be a great help to her. It’s up to ye. I’ll not tell ye one way tother.”

Mary felt excited, yet afraid. This was her chance to do something for Michael who had helped her in many ways. The way he spoke of The Strange Ones frightened her.

“What happened to the last human?”

Michael looked away. “Best ye don’t know child.”

Mary realised that was the second time he had called her ‘child’.

“I am not a child, Michael Leprechaun and I’ll go with the Gatekeeper! Where is this – Gate?”

A soft blue glow shone from the hood of the Gatekeeper who nodded vigorously.

Michael sighed. “We call it the Key Gate. Ye named it the Rocking Stone.”

Mary gasped. High on the mountain lay a large flat rock. Another one about the same size stood vertically on it. Many times she had tried to knock it over to no avail. Even the strongest wind just rocked it over and back.

“I’ve seen ye trying to knock it over,” Michael said, as if reading her mind, “and that might have helped The Strange Ones. What ye call the rocking stone is the key that locks them away. They are trying to loosen it. The Gate has opened, just a little, that’s why we have this wind and rain.” Michael glanced at Rua. “The dog must stay here.”

Obediently, Rua lay down and rested his head on his paws.

“Touch the Gatekeepers cape Mary, and take a deep breath.”

She did as she was told. Her eyes closed she felt a great weight on her chest – the next moment they were standing in front of the Key Gate.

The Key towered above her – silky black in the rain. The flat rock it balanced on had moved slightly, revealing a dark hole. Out of it rushed a foul smell.

Michael tugged at her boot. “Try to breathe through your mouth! The Gatekeeper will tell ye what to do.”

The wind tried to sweep her off her feet, tugging at her coat.

Everything went quiet. No drops of rain fell on her – the wind swirled around but did not touch her. It was as if she was looking through a window.

The Gatekeeper lifted her arms above her head, forming an arc. Slowly the rain retreated away from the rock.

A soothing and gentle voice whispered inside Mary’s head. Startled, she looked around. The Gatekeeper was advancing toward the rock, with Michael two steps behind.

‘Mary,’ the voice said, ‘place your hands on the Gate and think of all the things you love about this mountain.’

Getting down on her knees, Mary did as she was bid. She thought of flowers. The reds and yellows, the purples and whites – the flowers of all the seasons. The warm summer days she had lain on soft green grass and looked up at the blue sky. Shelter given to new born lambs and crystal water to drink.

The happy memories flooded her mind. Under her hands the rock started to move! She opened her eyes. A bird fluttered down in front of her and pecked at a worm that had peeked above the ground. The sun shone on her back.

Michael stood before her. “The Gatekeeper has asked me to thank ye. Her job was made easier with yer presence.”

Mary looked around, the Gatekeeper was nowhere to be seen.

“She asked me,” Michael continued, “to give ye something.”

He held out his small closed hand.

Mary held her hand under his.

Golden light, a part of the sun, Mary thought, floated gently onto her hand. It had no weight, no substance, yet she could feel a power surging through her body. Then the light faded, and was gone.

“What happened? I feel different.”

Michael produced his pipe blue smoke curling up from the bowl. “Ye’ve been given a rare gift Mary. Ye’ll have good health and a long and happy life. Ye’re now tied to the Gatekeepers, which is a good thing and – a bad thing.”

Mary’s brow furrowed. “What bad thing?”

Michael puffed hard, sending four perfect rings into the air. “Well – ye did such a good job here, they might have to call on ye again. Not that’s it’s likely to happen.”

“You don’t think so?”

“No.”

Relieved, Mary smiled. “If I touched your coat would you take me back to Rua?”

“Don’t ye dare! And keep that stupid dog away from me!”

Mary turned to see her dog racing across the new grass toward them.

“I told you before, Rua is not stupid! Now, say sorry.”

Michael had disappeared.

Smiling, Mary headed for home.

END

© John W. Kelly

This is the fourth of eight stories about Mary and her friend Michael the Leprechaun