The Magical Miniature Golf Course of Poblano Beach
By: Clay Waters

This was the spot. Right?

Alyssa pulled the rental car off the road, stepped into the drainage ditch, and stared at the place where the sign for Poblano Beach Miniature Golf had once stood.

Or had it been more beside the lamp? There was no one left to ask.

Alyssa was surprised to spot no beer cans or used condoms, only the benign ravagement of time: Four shriveled palms, a couple of wooden mascots still standing. Too ugly to swipe, too dull to destroy, the rest had splintered where they'd stood, even the gigantic T–Rex (not as gigantic as she'd remembered), leaving only the eighteen shallow sunken pools of artificial grass that had once comprised Poblano Beach Miniature Golf.

Alyssa waited. But no tears came. Emptied of emotion, in Dr. Taylor's phrase. Here it stood: The place where nothing had happened. The course she had expended endless miserable hours on at her father's insistence, trying to entice people off the road and into the course. Other children would stare at her, the 11–year–old knocking a pink ball around alone like an orphan. She'd imagine she was a little mini–golf pro, but no one had been impressed.

Inevitably, Father would come out from under the account books and do the cheery Disney thing. But he lacked the touch and quickly became overbearing, giving unwanted tips to sprites already squirming at the prospect of missing Mickey for some slightly dumpy Miniature Golf.

Miniature Golf. Not Mini Golf, certainly not Goofy Golf. No Goof in her father's soul, and maybe the visitors picked up on it. His free–floating anxiety had rubbed off on his twitchy daughter. It had done her short game no good.

Dr. Taylor had signed off on the jaunt, with reservations. "Just need to slay some demons. Not for real, understand," she had clarified, smiling nice and wide. She had packed pills but hadn't cracked the bottle so far. The doctor had also given her a verbal assignment, one she was dawdling over.

As always, the voice in her head replied. Gently sarcastic, but mostly on her side. She hadn't told Dr. Taylor about the voice yet. He was an elderly gent, and she didn't want to give him more than he could handle at once.

She stopped on the 14th hole. The home of Lucky the Leprechaun, still standing, though a bit worse for wear.

Get it over with, she thought, imagining how she stood out, a reedy redhead perched like a crane in the middle of an abandoned mini–golf, and delivered her sentence: "I forgive you, father."

There was a flare–up and puff of smoke. Whirling to see if she'd trodden upon a firework popper, she instead encountered a rosy–cheeked little man squatting stiffly over the 14th Hole. "Who is that disturbing my rest!?" It bellowed.

This is what you get for going off the pills, Alyssa pondered from a place slightly at an angle to herself, looking at the curiosity in a cutaway green suit and wide–brimmed country hat moving stiffly and leaning (of course) on a shillelagh, releasing wooden shavings with each stiff, squeaking turn of his neck.

Strange laughter streamed unbidden from her mouth. All her life she'd worried about going crazy, like her mother. She didn't have to worry any more.

Well. She would play along, and take notes for Dr. Taylor. "You're Lucky the Leprechaun," she said, aloud—as far as she could tell.

"And if it isn't sweet Alyssa, all grown–up." Lucky had acquired three dimensions: Still wooden, but now thick as well as wide. Not to mention moving about and speaking in a ridiculous Irish accent.

"And what are you up to now, Alyssa? It's been centuries since you left. You must be two centuries old by now."

"I'm 29 as of August the 4th, actually. I'm in Indiana now. Yonder, I guess," she pointed. Her father had ended up dying outside Indianapolis, for reasons too pathetic to ponder. Drink had been the accepted cause, but Alyssa knew the real killer. She was looking over the scene of the crime right then.

Then a happier thought came upon her. "If I catch you, you have to give me three wishes! Those are the rules!" She grabbed at Lucky; he ducked, she tried again.

"Leave me be! Leave me be, confound you!" Lucky wasn't as stiff as he looked, and nimbly dodged Alyssa's clutching. Finally she lunged too fiercely, fell over and stayed, her giddy laughter gradually devolving into quiet sobs. The meltdown had arrived; she leaned into it like a softened–up old pillow, perversely comfortable, her cheek resting against the artificial grass. It was threadbare but still pleasantly abrasive as she calmly sobbed.

A pair of oft–mended green shoes crept into her blurred vision. "Stop that, now," Lucky said, softer. "See, you're messing up my shoes, and I just mended them."

That's when Alyssa realized everything happening was actually happening. So the spot had been cursed after all. She felt awe, relief, catharsis, anger. Mainly regret.

"Well. This changes things. May I ask you a question?" She asked, monitoring the airy, slightly unhinged quality of her timbre. "I'm not angry, I just need to clear the air. Did you steal our balls?"

"Pardon?"

"All the pink balls disappeared one night."

"Pardon? Are you accusing me of stealing your precious golf balls?" Lucky's own face went pink. "Oh yes! Ate them with my tea, I did! Oh yes, I brought down this mighty enterprise with my own wee hands." He flashed his yellowed fingernails, wagged one in her face. "Look here, missy, I did nothing to this place, good or ill. It was all ye father's doing. He put in the sweat but he wasn't cut out for the work. No gift of gab, no blithe spirit. He wrecked the place fine all by his wee self."

"Well who took them, then?"

"A bunch of kids one night. Your boyfriend, for one."

"Boyfriend?" Oh yeah. The parched kiss behind the waterwheel on the 5th Hole. "You mean Ben?"

"Aye, sold them to the course across the way. Wanted to get more girls to play, who knows?" He shrugged stiffly.

"So you didn't put an old Irish hex on the place." Alyssa felt peculiarly disappointed. "But there is magic here?"

"Aye. But only a few could see us stirring about, mostly wee ones. Others just saw the flat cutouts. You could see us before, in spots, when you were wearied at night from your play."

Play? Ha. "I thought I was just tired."

"What changed, I wonder."

"Selective serotonin re–uptake inhibitors."

"Pardon?"

"Drugs."

Lucky nodded. "Change the brain, they do. Anyway, there's only two of us left now. But all we mascots had full personalities, once. Something to do with vestigial energy. That's what Danny the Dolphin said, before he faded away. He was the smart one."

Alyssa remembered the happy dolphin on the 6th hole. "So are all things alive? Like golf balls? Like stuffed animals? Do they miss us when we abandon them like this?"

"Oh, don't start crying again, it's not as bad as all that. We don't have the angst you poor sods do. Like your father: Thick with worry." Lucky pointed to a spot over her head. "You've got it too. Like a gray rainbow." A pause. "I know of your Father," he said gravely. "What of your mum?"

"I never had a mother."

Lucky set his tongue to retort, then seemed to think better.

"It's very clean here," she said, to clear the air. One could still play the course. Theoretically.

"It better be. This is my home. The lusty lads and lassies come to park, or bring their dog to leave shite, but I frighten them off, make no mistake."

"How?"

"They may not hear me, but they sure know when I throw a stone out of the dark."

Sigh. She would have to tell the resident of the 14th Hole the real reason she had returned. Later. "So what else can you do?"

"I can mend shoes and find gold."

"Really?"

"No. That's a load of ole' crap! Accepting the shoes, that's true enough." He flashed his gold buckles. "Two centuries I've had these."

"Two centuries? Ah, go shave your beard, Lucky."

The leprechaun harrumphed. "It is not the name I would have chosen. If it were up to me, I'd be called Cairbre, or Searlas."

"Something sensible."

"Aye. Hmm…" A suspicious squint. "You have developed an odd sense of humor in your old age, Alyssa. So, what brought you come back lo these many years?"

"School reunion." That was half the truth, anyway. "I stayed 10 minutes grinning like a goon and no one even said hello."

"Argh. Look what the cat hath drug in." Lucky gestured toward the 13th hole.

Alyssa found it hard to speak. "Oh goodness. It's Red Bird. Can I visit him?"

"If you wish. Mind you, he's a bit surly when he's just woken. And just about any other time."

She turned and made what must have looked a very silly bow. "You're the Red Bird," she said, feeling her face redden as well.

"Well of course I am!" The Red Bird huffed, twangy, rather Texan. "See my wings?" He flapped them fearsomely, but even at full wingspan he was just two feet wide and two feet tall, so it registered as wasted effort.

Perhaps the artist had enjoyed his work that day, for there was a life and energy to Red Bird than the others—especially poor, shapeless Sammy the Shark—had lacked. Still, the bird had more feathers than necessary and didn't look particularly aerodynamic—more like an aggrieved, undersized ostrich. Had the eyes always been so fierce? Not at all like the––

"Oh goodness."

"Pardon?"

She whispered, "I just realized. The Red Bird. He was based on the Orange Bird all along! From Disney? I never noticed it then because I wasn't allowed to watch." Disney was the competition with the mini–golf, though it was possible no one had told Disney.

"Never saw a Disney? Well I'll be banjaxed. Would love to visit."

"You'd best bring all ye gold then. Banjaxed?"

A stiff shrug. "Sometimes things just spill off my tongue. Besides, I'm stuck in the shire, see?" He kicked out; she heard a tiny thud against an invisible barrier. "It's my blessing and curse."

"Anyway, Red Bird looks like The Orange Bird. Spitting image."

"I wouldn't tell him that."

"What was that?" Came Red Bird's caw from behind. Lucky winced. Red Bird stalked up to the edge of his green. "I am being talked about."

Alyssa gulped in the face of the strutting ball of feathers and anger. "I was just saying that you look like a Disney character. Another bird."

"Nonsense. There is no other bird like me."

"I'll show you," she said, sensing it was a mistake but also getting kind of angry at the preening little shit–bird. She retrieved the coffee mug from her car and walked it over. "See? That's the Orange Bird."

The Red Bird tilted his outsized head as far as it could go. "Ha! I knew you were lying. That's a lousy copy of me."

"Actually, the Orange Bird was around before you were even a drop of paint."

"That's another lie."

"And do you know the other great thing about the Orange Bird? He didn't talk."

"Hmmph." With that the Red Bird turned, waddled to his hole and stuck his beak in it.

"You've hurt his feelings now," Lucky said reproachfully. "It's better he sleep, frankly. I try to be kind, but he makes it diff––see, there he goes." The big beak had stopped bobbing, and the eyes had lost their fire.

They waited for the transformation to complete, for the bird to shrink into damaged wood again.

Alyssa swiped away a tear. "Red Bird was my favorite. He was so ugly he was cute. Is he the only one left?"

"Aye. And he's on the way out. This patch is strong with magic, but you still need a forceful personality to survive."

"You must have eternal life, then."

"Hush now." But a grin enlivened Lucky's face.

She kneaded her forehead. "I should go to bed as well. Oh what a day."

"Surely you're not leaving without at least shooting a round?"

"I shall never pick up a club again."

"Enough with that babble." And then she had a club in her hand, though she didn't remember picking one up, or have the faintest idea where it could have come from.

"I'm going to need a ball. A pink one," she challenged. "And some crappy '80s music."

"I can top that." Lucky fished a shiny penny–whistle from his prodigious pockets and began piping an ethereal tune, one that made her want to laugh and cry at once.

When the music stopped she had alighted upon the 1st Hole, once home to sad–eyed Ollie the Octopus. A pink ball lay on the pad beneath her. She lined up to accommodate her left–handed stroke. She swung, then ambled over to find the ball already in the hole.

Well, #1 was a gimme.

She visualized the second hole and hit without looking up.

Perfect.

From there she putted calmly through the course, hands steady, relying wholly on muscle memory, the outline of each stroke appearing like a schematic in her head.

She finished the back nine with only the flickering street lamp for light. Not even the stiffened form of Red Bird threw her off her game.

When the last ball rattled in on 18 and disappeared, she heard Lucky clicking his heels. "A twenty–five! My goodness. Must have been the music, eh?"

Alyssa tilted her head, as if still listening for the tune. "That beats the course record by two strokes." She laid the club and ball down and sat cross–legged beside her new friend. "There was one other reason I came down, Lucky. I am going to sell the property off."

"I thought you were telling less than you knew." Lucky folded his arms and went into a sulk before becoming suddenly alive again. "Well, you still have a say, don't you?"

"Yeah, they can't do anything unless I give the official word. We could keep it as is."

"You can do better than that. Open the place up. The groundwork is still here. You just played a round yourself."

"You don't really mean…" But in a flash she saw it all.

She gazed down upon Lucky's fat contented face and exhaled, at last. Squatters rights for old wooden mascots. She really was insane. "Alright, you plucky little bastard, I'll do it."

###

Alyssa moved back to Florida, and refurbished and reopened the property as Poblano Beach Magical Miniature Golf Course. She put in a soft–ice cream and recreated the old look (which had circled back into style anyway), embellished with some garish mascots put together by a local art student. Whatever magic left un–mined failed to rub off on the new arrivals, but Lucky was as vigorous as ever.

And every couple of weeks, often in the ambivalent hour before sunset…there were leprechaun sightings.

Much snapping of pics ensued, with intriguing, leprechaun–shaped blotches resistant to the smarty–pants collective of instant internet experts. Playing by ear, Alyssa let the phenomenon grow naturally online, forward to forward, share to share. Word spread; people came. The local weekly ran an article: "The Magic Hole of Poblano Beach?" A web outfit came and did a ghost–hunting special with infra–red cameras and all the accompanying silliness, which was great for business, though Lucky got a little steamed when she read him a review off her tablet. "They don't believe I exist, do they?"

"Perhaps it's for the best," she said, counting the take at evening's close via flashlight at the 14th hole. "Did anyone see you today?"

Lucky shook his head. "Just a wee one, and an addled gent with hair long as a girl and dirty as a rat's nest. Had this put–on Irish accent and wouldn't stop jabbering about the craic and Jameson. Blech!"

"Wait, how do you know what Jameson tastes like?"

"It's blended whiskey, isn't it? Blech!" She'd never seen Lucky's wooden face so expressive.

Red Bird departed over the summer. They had reconciled somewhat by the end, mostly by not conversing too much. She got off the pills.

Her birthday approached, and with it a suspicious uplift in Lucky's demeanor. "It shall be your birthday soon, Alyssa. 'The Dirty Thirty,' I believe it is called."

"And how did you know?"

"You've only talked about it all month. Mostly to that boy who's always hanging about. Alan, his name?"

"Yes. Alan is his name. And please never say 'Dirty Thirty' again."

"So, what is your heart's desire?"

Alyssa put her finger to her chin, pretending to ponder. "Maybe…nah, it would just be hokey."

"What is it, then?" Lucky asked with a sigh.

"Never mind. I have something for you instead." Then she bent and whispered into Lucky's ear the name she had found, a long name, a name with hills and valleys, with rills and grooves. The leprechaun said nothing, in fact went a bit quiet the rest of the day.

###

Alyssa rose in the morning, drove to work—worrying a bit over whether the name she had chosen had wounded her friend's tangled feelings—parked, then quickly clambered out and stood staring, mouth agape, at something hanging in the sky over the clubhouse roof.

The rainbow ended at the very cup of the 14th hole. Lucky waited there, looking quite pleased with himself, in a patch of indigo. "I fear there's no pot of gold," he said.

Alyssa did not abuse her height by picking up Lucky, but she had nothing against patting the top of his hat. "You're my pot of gold."

-

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