Welcome back to Shadowed in Moonlight and may I bid you all a happy St. Patrick’s Day! In honor of the holiday I’m posting a short story featuring one Ireland’s mythical creatures: the pooka. The pooka is a shaggy, gray colt that is covered in chains and is said to lure children onto its back and then leap off cliff with the child/children still on board. I decided to take the legend and give it my own twist. So here is my interpretation of The Pooka.
A small, dark haired boy sat on his porch, using a stick to push the rocks at his feet around and trying desperately not to hear the shouting from inside the house. Instead he listened to everything else, the creaking of the old, sagging porch and the neighbor’s dogs barking. The footsteps of the couple walking down the sidewalk. They glanced his way, but looked away quickly, whispering. They came this way often and whispered just as frequently. He wished they wouldn’t. They were probably whispering about their barren yard covered in weeds and dirt or the peeling gray paint of the house that was slowly flecking away, exposing the wood beneath. He wished he lived in a house like the one down the street. It had pretty painted walls and there was a nice little rock path to the door and neatly trimmed grass and flowers on the windowsill. Their house should look like that. Then the neighbors wouldn’t whisper. They would come inside instead. Mom would make tea and Dad would talk about something in the news, and they would all laugh. And there wouldn’t be any whispering.
A door slammed from inside and the yelling got louder. He flinched and gave a soft, hiccupping sob before going quiet again. He pushed the rocks around with renewed vigor. Other kids would come to their nice house and he would play games and roughhouse with them. Glass shattered and the yelling transformed to shrieking. He hunched down lower. They would eat dinner together and he would tell everyone about his adventures at school.
There was a moment of silence and then a soft crack, like a branch breaking, from the forest past the yard. He looked up and saw a large brown eye staring at him. There was another sudden bang from the house and he jumped. When he looked back again there was a flash of grey fur and then it was gone. He hesitated. The yelling started again. He dropped the stick and jogged over to the forest. He looked around for a bit and was rewarded with another flash of grey fur further off. He raced after it and saw another flash. He shouted in delight and ran deeper into the forest. A small clearing opened up before him and he saw that there was a small horse in it. The horse had shaggy grey fur and big brown eyes. It nickered at him and he walked forward carefully, fearful of scaring it.
There was a strange mist gathering around the clearing, but he was lost in the horse’s large, gentle eyes. Finally he was close enough and he reached out and touched the horse’s velvet soft muzzle. It began to paw the ground and he jumped back, startled. The horse lowered itself until it was kneeling on the soft ground and looked at him expectantly. A grin broke free as he understood what the horse was offering and he pulled himself up on to its back.
The horse stood and began to trot around the clearing. The little boy laughed in delight and the horse whinnied and tossed its head in jubilation. The surrounding mist grew thicker. Soon the horse was prancing and dancing through the forest as the boy held on tightly to its short mane, watching the passing trees with wonder. The horse picked up its pace and now they were racing through the forest, nearly flying over gnarled roots and sending the leaf litter fluttering into the air behind them. He held on tightly, exhilarated by the sound of rushing wind and pounding hooves. The grey mist gently wraped itself around the pair, but neither noticed.
The boy had long ago lost track of where they were, but he didn’t care as he watched the world passing by. He glanced forward and his heart froze in his chest. In the distance the ground gave way into a wide, deep canyon and the horse was careening straight for it. His heart started up again in double time and he tugged the horse’s mane, trying to get it to stop, but the horse took no notice. The boy looked around wildly, searching for anyway to escape, but he saw nothing that would help him. He would have to jump off. He took a deep breath to gather his courage and released the horse’s mane. He pushed off with his legs, but was brought up short. The mist had coalesced into strong chains that entwined around where he and the horse joined, keeping them firmly bonded.
The chains were cold enough to burn and the more he fought, the colder they became. He struggled, twisting and pulling even though icy metal pulled painfully at the flesh of his wrists and ankles. The horse whinnied and the boy looked up to see the edge of the ravine perilously close. He struggled with renewed vigor, but the chains just constricted tighter. He looked again and saw that the drop was only a few lengths away.
Time slowed and it seemed like the each of the horse’s hooves touching the ground echoed the beat of his heart. One. The rest of the world fell away until it was just him, the horse, and the edge before them. Two. The horse breathed in deeply, not unlike how the boy had done a few brief moments ago. Three. The horse’s muscles bunched as it readied itself for the leap. Four. The front hooves left the ground. Five. The horse pushed off hard with its hind legs and they were leaping.
They were suspended just above the ground now and the boy looked down into the dizzying depths of the canyon. He clenched his eyes shut and thrust himself forward, clutching the horse’s long fur in his fists and burying his face in its neck. They were going to die together, but it was alright. At least there were no whispers here, just the magic of the forest and unbridled wilderness.
The boy’s forward thrust had broken the chains and they had shattered back into mist. They hovered around the boy and horse. Suddenly the boy felt weightless. He felt the horse’s muscles bunching and then they were rising through the air. His eyes snapped open and he saw the world falling away beneath them. He looked around and saw that the mist had solidified into powerful wings just behind him on the horse’s back. He laughed and whooped with exhilaration. The horse let out a sharp whinny of delight and looked back at the boy, its eye twinkling with merriment. The boy grinned back. The horse snorted and tossed its head and together they galloped across the sky, journeying into lands unknown. Freedom, at last.
Never be afraid to fly. I hope you enjoyed my story and had an adventurous St. Patrick’s day. Until next time, goodnight.
Posted on March 18, 2013, in Midnight Ramblings, Tales of Darkness and tagged Irish myths, legends, mythical creatures, myths, pooka, st. patrick's day, story, writing. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.