It’s Not Over ‘Til It’s Clover

An Alarming Shade of Green

Patrick O’Sullivan wanted to throw a party.

It was the day before St. Patrick’s Day, and while the customary celebration in his quiet village was a pint down at the pub, Patrick longed for a proper spectacle that included twinkling emerald lights, a shiny shamrock garland, beer dyed an alarming shade of green and maybe even a leprechaun costume or two. He daydreamed about the laughter and raucous music and fantasized about his humble kitchen table groaning under the weight of loaves of soda bread, steaming trays of colcannon, platters of corned beef and pitchers of stout.

A Party out of Thin Air

The sad truth was that his wallet held only a few paper notes and the jar of spare change he kept on his dresser was mostly full of copper coins.

“I can’t throw a party out of thin air,” he mused glumly, kicking at loose stones as he wandered aimlessly along the quiet lane that bordered Flynn O’Malley’s sheep meadow. The sun was beginning to ebb in the sky, and the chill in the air grew as the shadows lengthened, reminding Patrick that he had just one short day to solve his party problem.

A Stranger in a Woolen Cloak

Every year it was the same. Patrick would vow to throw his friends an unforgettable St. Patrick’s Day bash, then procrastinate right up until the end before giving up in disgust and vowing to do better next year. His mum always did accuse him of having unreasonable expectations for things.

One of the long, gray shadows that stretched across the meadow fluttered suddenly, and Patrick caught the movement from the corner of his eye. He turned to look squarely at it and saw what he thought was a tree was actually a stranger in a woolen cloak. The cloak was so out of place that Patrick automatically assumed the man was a member of a movie production or someone cosplaying at a Renaissance festival. “Oy,” Patrick called, cupping his hand around his mouth. “Are you lost, mate? The tenth century is that way!” And he gestured with his thumb in the general direction of the motorway that would get this stranger wherever he needed to go, whether it was Blarney Castle or the Dublin Airport for a flight home.

The man regarded him with wry amusement. “In truth, I am not lost.” His lilting accent was impossible to place, but there was no mistaking its posh and arrogant overtone. The stranger began striding toward him, and Patrick caught the silvery glint of a sword at the man’s side.

“Spared no expense, eh?” Patrick quipped, with a gesture that included the whole outfit. “That’s a proper getup, mate; you’re sure to win a prize.” As the stranger drew closer, Patrick experienced the unsettling feeling that something even beyond his demeanor or costume was most definitely off about him, but he’d be hard-pressed to say just what that was.

“Could you spare a drink, friend?” The stranger seemed pleasant enough, but Patrick’s heart went cold. He’d heard the tales of otherworldly folk all his life. This man could be an extra in the latest HBO fantasy series or he could be...something else. Unsure what to do, Patrick indicated his cottage nearby without enthusiasm. “I’ve got a pint or two at home.”

The stranger grinned wolfishly and indicated the way. “Shall we?”

As they walked the short distance, Patrick attempted some small talk. “From around here, are you?”

“I’ve family nearby,” the stranger answered vaguely. They both fell silent.

In Patrick’s kitchen, he efficiently flipped the tops from two bottles and handed the stranger one. They drank in silence, Patrick watching surreptitiously as the stranger eyed his humble table and rickety chairs with a cool eye.

Their bottles drained at last, Patrick was grateful for the excuse to be busy with tossing the empty bottles in the bin. He turned to the stranger and said, “So I guess you’ll be on your way, then. Do you want me to call a car for you or give you directions?”

“There’s no need for that,” the stranger countered, and Patrick’s disquiet grew under the gaze from the gray, glittering eyes framed by the woolen cloak. He’d tried earlier to place the stranger’s face, thinking maybe he was an actor rather than just a lost tourist in cosplay. It was difficult to capture the man’s likeness in his mind, even when he was right in front of him. Young, old, thin, muscular — it was as if his appearance was shifting ever so slightly in the dying light of day until there was no way to say what he was.

“Now hang on,” Patrick said, with an attempt at a humorous tone he did not feel. “I didn’t mind having you in for a pint, but I’m not looking for a long-term relationship.”

“You are strange,” the man said, almost as an afterthought. “But a bargain is a bargain.”

“What?” cried Patrick, alarmed. “No. No bargain!”

“Tell me what you want most in the world,” the stranger commanded. Patrick started to refuse, but the image of the party he’d always wanted to throw for his friends rose unbidden in his mind. The shamrock lights, the leprechaun costume, even the St. Patrick’s Day sunglasses.

“Very well,” the stranger said with finality and arose, striding for the door. “You didn’t even know what I was going to say—” Patrick began, but the stranger opened the door and melted into the night.

Patrick tossed and turned that night, dwelling on his strange encounter. In the morning, he rose to make a pot of tea and nearly fainted as he saw his kitchen table loaded with food and his windows festooned with a thousand emerald lights.

It seemed the bargain he’d made had been a good one.

He quickly reached for the phone to invite everyone for dinner. for St. Patrick's Day

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