I smiled down at my little boy, “I’ve already told this story three times tonight.”
His eyes shone with glee as he simply repeated himself, “Again! Again!”
The sun had set, and the light outside was but moon and stars. My son was not at all tired yet, and neither was I. Stroking his blond hair I said, “Oh, alright, I will tell it again.”
“A long time ago, long before I was born, they told the story of a mischievous spirit called a pooka. Wherever the pooka went, it played pranks on people, but these were usually harmless. It found humans funny, and they, in turn, found its japes amusing. The pooka could take the form of whatever it wanted, and would often play among the human children, laughing and running about. One day, it was playing hide and seek with the children of a small village, and it really wanted to win. It took the form of a moss covered rock, knowing the children would never find it. Oh how it laughed to itself in glee, thinking of all the humans worrying about the child they could not find, lost all alone, in the woods, as night approached. But no one was looking for the pooka. The children had forgotten there was another playmate that day. They had forgotten the strange little child that none of them knew, and they had finished their little game and gone home for supper.
“When midnight came, and still no one looked for it, the pooka changed into an owl and went looking for the humans, wondering where they all were. There were no humans about, there were no torches lit, no search parties for the lost little child who had not been found. It searched all night for any sign that they had worried, and found none. As daylight broke upon the little village, the pooka had become angry, and vengeful. A dangerous thing is a pooka if you ignore its tricks.
“At first, it played the mean pranks it often played when it felt slighted. Milk soured, animals strayed, chairs broke, and food went missing. Still, the humans showed no sign of remorse. No offerings to the magical spirit were offered to soothe its rage. The pooka grew spiteful, and its pranks became dangerous. The baker broke his leg falling off a ladder, the local shepherd almost drowned crossing a river, and the village well dried up. One by one, the humans grew fearful, and they whispered among themselves, wondering what was causing their misfortunes. They imagined ghosts and ghouls, witches and wights, fairies and fuaths. They blamed one creature after another, but not once did they think of pookas, and this made the pooka very angry indeed.
“No longer was it thinking of simple pranks or jests, no longer did it want the people of the village to fear it. No, now it wanted the people of the village to suffer. So it called upon its kind, and from far and wide did the pookas come, each delighted at the grand caper the angry pooka proposed. One by one, the pookas tempted every child of the village away from the watchful eyes of the adults and the other children, and one by one, they stole the child away, putting one of their number in its place, until there was but one human child left in the village. One small, lone child, a little blond boy, just like you, who never ventured from his house, who preferred to play by himself indoors with his books and toys. And it was this little boy that the angry pooka chose to take the place of.
“It approached the house of the little blond boy one afternoon when his parents were still off at work, and taking the form of a puppy, it yipped and yapped, and scratched at the door of the house, trying to lure the child outside. But the child, who looked out at the frantic little animal jumping and prancing about outside his window, did not trust strange animals, just like you, and he turned away from the window and went back to his toys.
“The pooka returned the next day and took the form of a little old lady, frail and kindly, holding a basket of sweet things to entice the child outside. But the child was not fond of sweet things, just like you, and refused to answer the door for the stranger, and went back to his books. This upset the pooka, but what could it do? Even magical creatures have rules they must obey, and the pooka could not enter the house except in the form of the little boy. So once again, it had to go away, and the boy was safe another day.
“Day after day, the pooka returned, and it took form after form, each more irresistible than the last, but nothing it did could coax the little boy out of his house and into danger, for the boy was obedient, and his parents had told him never to go outside when they were away, and never to talk to strangers. Day after day, the pooka tried, and day after day it was frustrated, and the lone little boy who preferred books to all the silly little things other children found so fun remained safe in his house.”
My child beamed up at me and asked excitedly, “Did the pooka ever get him?”
“Never. Not as long as the boy remained inside, like a good little boy should, like you do, my child.” I kissed the top of his head as I finished my cautionary tale once more.
I smiled down at my little boy and laughed, “You have heard this story four times tonight.”
He just smiled at me in that way every child smiles at their parent when they do not want to let the story end, “Again! Again!”
An owl hooted as the deep of the night settled in. My son was still not tired, and neither was I. Stroking his brown hair I said, “Oh, alright, I will tell it again.”