Maggie Murtagh made her way up the lane, leisurely pausing to gaze at clusters of buttercups and primroses growing along the side of the road. Ahead lay her home, Sean’s and her home that is. She never could lose the feeling at seeing it, that it was brand new to her all over again. Forty years she had lived here with Sean, on the same small farm they both loved. She took care of the flower garden and the chickens, having fresh eggs for breakfast and selling the excess to the grocer in town, while Sean took care of the farm. It had worked well for them all these years.
She saw a man leave through the gate. She recognized him as Padge Codden, a neighbor who had a bigger farm nearby. She was sorry that she had missed him; she had bread for Mrs. Codden to give to the small boy who had the whooping cough. Sean and Maggie had the same last names. Before she was married her name was Maggie Murtagh. Bread from the house of such a couple was supposed to be good for the whooping cough. “I’ll run up with it later,” thought Maggie, “I haven’t seen Julia in two weeks anyway.”
“How are you feeling now, Sean?”
“I’m fine, Maggie, just fine.”
“Padge Codden was here I see.”
“Yes, he just stopped in to say hello.”
“He was going at a fair trot when I saw him leave. You weren’t at it again about the back field now Sean, were you?”
“It was mentioned.”
It was more than mentioned. Padge Codden wanted that back field very much. The land surrounding it was his, the back field would square it off nicely. Padge Codden won’t have it, though, he could not be trusted to leave it alone. In the middle of this field was a ring of trees. If it could be seen from above, it looked like a perfect circle.
“Fairy ring be damned, Sean Murtagh, a man would have to plough around and in and out of every blasted tree; ye can’t be serious now.”
“I never said it was a fairy ring, Padge. I only asked if you would disturb it, and you said you would, so that’s the end of that.”
Padge Codden pleaded and coaxed, but it was no good, the deal was off, for now.
It was a fine late summer evening, the dew was rising from the field, and a chill could be felt in the air. Sean Murtagh walked from the house across the yard to the front gate where he rested and set about settling the problem of the back field. He had ploughed it, planted it, used it as pasture, never thinking of disturbing the ring of trees. Why should he, the field had been good to him. He would have to sell it, though, along with the other land. It would bring the best price, trees and all. The other land was not bad, it was just not as good. Three young boys appeared as if from no place, each one carrying a pillow case.
“Can we go into the back field to look for mushrooms, Mr. Murtagh?” they asked eagerly.
“You can if you close the gates after you and don’t annoy the cows back there.”
“We won’t bother a thing, Mr. Murtagh, we won’t even bother opening the gates; we’ll climb over them,” said the spokesman for the trio.
“Alright then, off ye go, but be out before it’s dark.”
“You can be sure of that, sir, we don’t want to be around after dark. That’s a fairy ring in that field you know, me Ma told me. I’ll be that’s why we always find so many mushrooms.”
Doctor Keogh was not known to be wrong very often. “Three months,” he said, “about three months, that’s all I can promise you, Sean.”
He knew he would have to tell Maggie, if only he could take care of the land it would not be so bad. Times were hard, it would be difficult enough getting his price for the land, putting conditions on the sale would not help matters much.
“Come on in now, Sean, it’s getting too damp to be standing about.”
“Just a while, Maggie, I’ll go and make sure them boys have gone home.”
He walked across the field feeling the dampness of the grass on his legs. Maybe the fairies will have the answer, they seem to have taken care of him over the years. While others had bad years, he and Maggie always managed. Codden would surely fell the trees, but who else had Codden’s money; he could fell the trees himself, he would feel better about it. Maybe tomorrow if he felt up to it.
The boys were long gone home with their bags of mushrooms for the morning’s breakfast. He walked inside the ring and looked about. It was a strange place; he had seldom come inside, knowing to leave well enough alone. Aye, tomorrow they would come down to the highest bidder. His land, Maggie’s land. He would keep the house, of course, the money from the sale would take care of Maggie. He turned to go. He could tell her now. “Sean Murtagh,” someone called his name. He turned and looked into the circle, twilight making it difficult to distinguish shapes. “Over here, Sean Murtagh, come over here.”
He walked toward the voice, wondering who it could be. He did not recognize the voice. “You will take away our ring, Sean. Have we not left your house alone all these years?”
“Who are you? What are you doing here?”
“I am what you want me to be Sean. I live here.”
He looked upon the form before him. It changed from a kindly-looking old man to a grotesque creature that bore no resemblance to man or beast. Sean turned to run, fear bursting within him. He could see the trees and cursed them madly.
“Come back. Sean. I mean you no harm.” The voice was calm and soothing. Sean stopped. The old man was before him again.
“Wait no, can you change like that whenever you want to, for anyone at all?”
“Yes, Sean, but only to someone who would take away our home. That’s all.”
He was gone. No voice, no old man, no monster, nothing.
Sean walked slowly back to the house. Tomorrow, he thought, tomorrow I’ll call Codden.
John L. Fuller lives in the Kendall Park. Originally from Ireland, he retired after many years as an international transportation manager for several U.S. companies.