"Tom, that slop of mashed potatoes and ketchup, mixed with bits of napkin you left on your tray was gross…I wonder who has to clean those plates off after we put them on the conveyor that takes them back into the kitchen," contemplated Joe. He and Tom continued conversing as they walked out the glass-paneled doors of the cafeteria of the small private college they attended.
Standing at her desk just inside the cafeteria doors, Peggy, the petite 62 year-old lunch lady who scanned the students' meal cards as they walked in the door, overheard Joe. She smiled to herself as she remembered the day she found the current plate-scrubber.
* * * * *
It was a particularly pleasant Friday afternoon in March. Peggy stood full of cheer behind her desk, wishing a good day to students who had just finished their lunch and were headed down the hall to the mail room.
"Make sure you take a piece of candy. Have a great weekend!"
"Thanks Peggy. You too!" several girls called back over their shoulders as they removed the gold foil wrapper from the chocolate-covered caramels in their hands.
The main rush had subsided and Peggy was lean ing back, enjoying a short rest. She caught a whiff of something putrid and glanced around, scanning the area for the source of the odor.
There were some odd things that had been happening in the cafeteria within the past weeks: cafeteria workers had come to work in the mornings and found bags of cereal missing; the cooler under the salad bar void of any item that was not green; and the wood-and-metal tables and chairs, which were normally all aligned parallel to each other and evenly spaced, were rearranged into the shape of a giant shamrock in the large dining space in the middle of the room.
With these thoughts in mind Peggy turned to her left. Looking over her shoulder, she was startled to see, standing behind the frozen yogurt machine, a very small bearded man clad in a green vest, coat, and breeches. He also sported black tights, with gold-buckled black patent leather shoes and a black hat to match, from which a clover protruded. It was a leprechaun!
The little man was holding a green burlap sack, which Peggy realized was the source of the odor because the smell intensified as he opened the bag to whisper something into it. The smell vanished immediately and he stuck his hand in and pulled out a pie. A chocolate pudding pie, to be exact. The leprechaun threw the bag to the floor and tip-toed over to the dessert table and placed the pie in one of the recessed serving trays under the plastic sneeze guard. Peggy then watched as he zoomed across the caf, past the salad and waffle bars, zigzagging unnoticed between students all the way over to the cereal station, where he proceeded to pour himself a bowl of Lucky Charms. Then, turning to look at her, he winked, and transformed into a miniature version of himself in a tiny flash of gold sparks.
Peggy's attention was diverted from the leprechaun at this time by a group of students queuing up at the dessert bar.
"Mmm…chocolate…this looks amazing," a short, stout brunette with freckles across her nose said to her taller red-headed friend who stood behind her.
"Finally, something worth eating," her friend replied, pushing up the sleeves of her gray hooded-sweatshirt to cool off a little in the warm greasy air. "I've been eating a turkey sandwich and spinach salad every meal so far this week. This pie looks amazing."
Peggy had a sneaking suspicion, based on smell, about what the leprechaun's burlap bag had held before its contents had been changed into a pie and she knew she couldn't let the students eat any of it.
Just as the girl at the front of the line reached for the triangle-shaped pie-server, Peggy yelled at her to stop—
"No! I can't let you eat that, dear!"
"What?! Are you kidding me? It looks delicious. For cryin' out loud, I just want a piece of pie! Why can't I eat it?"
"Because that is no chocolate pie!"
"Peggy jerked her scantron gun off of her desk, disconnected the cord which leashed it to her computer, pulled a "special" battery pack from the left pocket of her green Cardigan sweate,r and lodged it in the base of the gun. Raising the gun to waist-height, she aimed it at the pudding pie. There was a red glow emanating from the gun and from Peggy, too.
Unbeknownst to the students, before taking up her current cafeteria job in order to have something to do during her retirement, Peggy had been an agent for the government's DCYTTWFMC (Department for the Control of You-Thought-They-Were-Fictional Magical Creatures). Having tackled such beings as banshees and goblins during her previous career, Peggy was confident she could handle this situation, especially since her scantron gun doubled as a demagicalizer (it could reverse magic done by a magical being).
She shot the scantron; a red laser hit the pie. The decadent-looking dessert, creamy and topped with a ring of dollops of whipped cream and chocolate shavings, started to spin. It spun faster and faster, remaining intact, until it raised from the table. It hovered for several seconds, and then…
SPLAT!!! A pile of raunchy cow feces plopped onto the table where the tempting pie had sat, moments before. Luckily, it was inside the sneeze guard, so it merely splattered the inside of the plastic; the cafeteria patrons were spared from being coated with dung.
The leprechaun had been watching this scene in his miniature form, floating cross-legged above the dessert table, devouring his bowl of cereal. When the pie was ruined, he became a very angry little man, which caused him to lose control of his magical powers. He unwillingly transformed back to his normal not-quite-so-small size with a POP!
He fell from the air and tumbled onto the terra-cotta tile of the cafeteria floor. His bowl of cereal hung in midair for a split second before crashing down, splattering all the students with sugary milk and colorful pastel marshmallow shapes. Peggy managed to escape this mess because she was still holding the scantron/transformer gun, which had created a protective shield around its holder.
"You ruined my precious pie!" screeched the leprechaun. "It was magically delicious, and you ruined it! How dare you interfere with the work of Seamus McDonnelly O'Mally!"
He sprinted off, bursting through the doors of the cafeteria, through the exit of Gage Memorial Union, and ran toward the library.
Peggy took off after him. She had saved the day, but she did not want this fiend to terrorize her cafeteria again. She wanted to catch the rascal and make him pay for what he did, not to mention to make him clean up the dessert bar, which was now a mess of cow pie.
Peggy was closely tailing the leprechaun as they drew closer to the library.
Fwoop! The leprechaun caught his foot in the gnarly, knotty roots that emerged from the earth between the trees. He struggled to get up, and looking back, saw that she was almost close enough to nab him. He dove at the roots of the nearest tree, an old spotted oak, and disappeared.
Peggy stopped between the trees, searching and waiting.
Something small hit her above her right eye. Another small something bounced off her head. She looked up into the tree.
"Ha ha he!" cackled the little man sitting on one of the lower branches of the tree. He swung his legs back and forth and held several small gold coins in his raised fist, ready to launch them at Peggy.
She was not about to be taunted by a wee little man. She jumped up into the air, reaching, and closed her grasp around the outer edge of the branch he was so happily situated on.
The branch obligingly bent down, bringing her feet within centimeters of touching the ground. The leprechaun started falling in the direction the branch was bending, when Peggy released her grip on it which sent the leprechaun sailing through the air.
He landed about twenty feet away from the tree, did a somersault, and rolled over in the dry brown March grass onto his back, dazed.
Now she had him! Peggy sprinted over to where he lay on the ground. She snatched him by the wrist and pulled him to his feet. Disoriented and unable to fight or gather his powers, he knew his mischievous flight had come to an end.
It should be mentioned that once a leprechaun is caught by a human, he not only has to reveal the whereabouts of his pot of gold, but he is also obliged to obey the orders of whoever caught him. Peggy, who is a very smart lady, knew this.
"Think it's a larf to play tricks in my cafeteria, leprechaun? Since you seem to enjoy the place so much, I've decided to allow you to be in there everyday…every meal. Our dishwasher hasn't been cleaning the dishes very well lately, and I just found us a plate scraper. You'll start right after you finish cleaning and disinfecting the mess you made with your pie. "
"YOU are the one who made the mess," he groaned as she led him back toward the school's Memorial Union.
Upon questioning, the leprechaun unveiled the location of his pot of gold to Peggy as they walked to the cafeteria. She found it the following day (it was hidden under a water fountain adjacent to the school tennis courts). However, since this was on the college' s property, school officials informed her that the gold belonged to the school. They felt that a parchment certificate for "Outstanding Service to the School" would suffice for reward to Peggy, whose discovery added millions of dollars to the school bank account. Construction on a new administrative building commenced soon afterward.
* * * * *
Now, two years later, if students sneak a peek around the corner of the tray depository, they may steal a glimpse of a tiny man, scowling and cursing the "sloppy overgrown students" as he cleans off their plates.
The dishes have never been cleaner.
I would like to thank my classmates and Terry for both their inspiration and suggestions for this story and for their hard work on the many many revisions of it. Thank you for your input. I would also like to thank Lucky the Leprechaun and the good people at General Mills for the use of Lucky's token phrase and because the Lucky Charms cereal itself made an appearance in the story.