Sunday Stories: “Pucker”


by Kevin Lenaghan

“Well, that doesn’t look too bad!” John Fergus said, both hands resting proudly on his hips as he regarded his handiwork. 

The small, blue tent was sitting in a mostly upright position, three metal rods still lying unused on the grass next to it. He picked them up, regarded them suspiciously, then shrugged and threw them back down. “Sure, they always give you a few spare parts!” 

Just then the tent, already leaning slightly to one side, fell down flat. He stood staring for a moment, his heavily bearded mouth frowning, hands still on his hips.

From behind him came the sound of a wheezing, drawn-out laugh. He spun around to see a figure in a large, navy-blue parka about two sizes too large emerging from the trees that surrounded his small campsite. It had its hood up, face hidden in darkness. Its hands were not visible, hidden as they were in the sleeves of the big coat, though from the end of the figure’s right sleeve a brown paper bag dangled. From the knees down it was covered by a heavily stained pair of black tracksuit trousers and a pair of paint-covered, once-brown shoes.

“Havin’ a bit a’ trouble, are ye?” said the figure, its voice sounding deep and guttural. “Need a hand?”

“Oh, no, no,” John said, taking a step back as the figure took one forward. “I’ve done this a million times.”

“Aye, I can see that,” said the figure. It slowly raised the paper bag up to its hood, the top of it disappearing inside. The bag inflated slowly, then deflated. The figure let out a long sigh as it lowered its arm back down, “Y’wanna be careful out here,” it went on, slightly wheezier and raspier than before. “Don’t wanna upset the locals.”

“Locals?” said John, eyeing the paper bag suspiciously. “The nearest farm’s two miles away.”

“Aye,” chuckled the figure, “there’s a reason fer that.”

“What do you mean by that?” said John curiously.

“Well, just look where ye’ve pitched yer tent!”

John looked around at the little campsite he’d chosen. It was a perfectly flat, circular clearing about eight yards across. It was the perfect place to pitch a tent.

“What’s wrong with it?” he said defensively.

“I can tell yer a city boy. Come here from Dublin, did ya? You’ve only gone and put it right smack in the middle of a bloody fairy ring, haven’t ye?”

“Fairy ring? Are you serious, mate?”

“Oh, right,” laughed the hooded figure, “I see how this is gonna go. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.” It raised the bag up to its hood once more, pulsing the bag. “Do ye want some?” it said, lowering the bag and holding it out toward him.

“Uh, no. No, thanks. Nope!” John babbled, taking another step backward.

“Ach, sure, it’s only wood glue!” said the figure, sounding a little hurt. It cleared its throat, turned its hood, and spat a nasty green globule onto the grass, where it hissed quietly and bubbled on the ground. “You move that tent, son, or you’ll be sorry.”

“I think I’ll be grand, thanks,” said John, smiling weakly.

“Sure ya will,” said the figure, chuckling. “I’ll just say this then. Despite yer rudeness, I think yeh might be an alright sorta fella. So if yeh need me, just give us a shout, eh? They call me Pucker. No idea why.” He waved the bag at John once more, turned awkwardly, and stumbled off into the trees, listing erratically from side to side and bouncing off the trunks here and there until he was out of sight.

“Fuckin’ hell,” John sighed to himself, relieved. He shook his head, turned, and set about rebuilding his tent. It was mid-January, the sun would be going down very soon, and there was no way he would be able to put it together in the dark.

That night, asleep in his tent, John had the most terrible nightmare. In it a tiny man about the size of his forearm, his face gray and twisted, wearing a tattered robe made of sackcloth, gleefully took a saw and laboriously cut through John’s left leg, right through his hip joint.

Eventually the nightmare passed and became a confusing, nonsensical dream about a pig that sold chocolate-covered onions, though all throughout he could still sense, on the edge of hearing, the laughing of the little man with the saw.


John awoke with a start, the sound of the birds chirping in the trees as the light shone dully through the canvas above him. He sat up in his sleeping bag, unzipped it about halfway down, and tried to get up but found his left leg numb, pins and needles running through it like electricity.

He put his hand inside the bag to rub some feeling back into it but, in his half-asleep daze, found himself rubbing the wrong leg. After some scrambling around, he still couldn’t get his hand on it. Frustrated, he unzipped the bag all the way and stared in horror at the empty space where his leg used to be.

Nothing but a smooth, rounded-off, tiny stump sticking out of the hole of his gray shorts.

“What the fuck?!” he screamed, grasping the nub where his leg had been. The memory of his nightmare came rushing back, the twisted little man and his big saw, laughing away to himself as he removed the leg. John looked around again desperately, as if that would somehow make it reappear. There was nothing else for it. He cupped his hands around his mouth and screamed as loud as he could, “Pucker!

Almost immediately the zip of the tent in front of him whizzed upward, and the figure in the parka squeezed in and sat down cross-legged in front of him. It reached up with a hand that had only two unusually thick, pointed fingers and pulled its hood down, revealing a long, thin face covered all over in matted white hair, a triangular mouth upturned at the edges in a smile below a nose that was little more than two horizontal slits set in a black splodge, above which sat two sideways-oval eyes, inside which were set long, rectangular, black pupils. Above this two small, bony protrusions sat, one above each eye. The goat-faced man looked down at John’s stump and back up at his horrified face.

“Bloody hell, they didn’t leave ya with much, did they?” said Pucker, his eyes radiating sympathy.

“Jesus fucking Christ!” John roared, his face pale as he stared at Pucker. “Get back, monster!”

That’s not very nice!” said Pucker, leaning back a little. Then he reached up with his cloven hands and pulled thoughtfully at the filthy tuft of hair hanging from his chin. “Oh wait, ye’ve probably never seen a pooka before, have yeh?”

“A what?” John croaked, his face a mask of confusion and terror.

“Look, it doesn’t matter. Have ye ever read Cinderella?” As John continued to stare, Pucker went on, “Well, I’m like…well, I suppose I’d be like your fairy godmother in this here scenario now.”


“Right, uh… How about this?” Pucker went on, in the manner of one trying to explain something to a child. “Would you like another leg?”

“What about my actual fucking leg?!” John shouted, grasping his stump again instinctively.

“Well, that’s gonna be a bit more complicated, y’see. I haven’t got it,” Pucker said, grimacing. “But I reckon I might know who does. I can get yeh another one fer now, but y’ hafta agree.”

“What? What are you talkin’ about?!” John whined.

“Look, just repeat after me! Yes, Pucker, I would like a leg.

John continued to stare at the goat-man, breathed deeply, and mumbled, “Yes, Pucker, I would like a leg.”

“Good on yeh!” exclaimed Pucker, smiling happily. “Now click yer heels.”


“Ha! Only jokin’!” laughed Pucker. “Now let’s get you upright.” John didn’t resist as Pucker reached out two cloven hands, slipped them under his armpits, and hoisted him up with incredible strength, pulling him up and out of the tent flap in one swift movement. Pucker held him upright as he balanced on one leg, naked but for his gray shorts in the cold morning light. 

“Alright, now take a deep breath and close yer eyes.” John obliged, not seeing an alternative. As soon as he shut his eyes, he felt an odd shiver running through his body, which he initially attributed to the cold, but immediately after he felt the ground beneath his feet. Both his feet. He opened his eyes, looked down, and was horrified by what he saw.

“What the fuck is that?!” he shouted at Pucker, who had been smiling proudly. His expression fell.

What?! I’m workin’ with limited resources here, okay! It’s not like I walk around with a big sack full o’ legs!” He pointed to the long, gray dog’s leg that now occupied the space between John’s hip and the ground. “That’s a bloody good leg, that is!”

“It’s a fucking dog’s leg!” John roared, stepping toward the pooka unsteadily.

“It’s not just a dog’s leg!” he replied proudly. “That, my ungrateful friend, is the leg of the hound slain by Setanta!”

Who?!” said John, his anger subsiding for a brief moment as it was replaced with confusion.

“Do you know nuthin’?! Setanta!” he said, exasperated. He stared at John’s bewildered expression and frowned. “Y’know, slayer of the hound of Culann? Earning himself the name Cúchulainn?” He leaned over for a closer look and squinted. “Well…it was supposed t’ be, anyway.”

“It’s a fucking dog’s leg!” John repeated.

“Well, you’ll just have to get used to it, ’cause it’s the only one I could get that was big enough, alright?!” he said, shaking his head as he turned and walked off toward the edge of the clearing, mumbling, “Read a fuckin’ book, would ya? I mean what’s the world comin’ to…” He turned around slowly and looked back at John with his eyes narrowed. “Are you comin’ or what?”

“But…where are we going?” John said, shivering a little from the cold.

“We’re goin’ to get your leg back off the little bastards in the woods,” he said, shrugging. “Why? Is there somewhere else y’ need to be?”

John looked down at his “new” leg and lifted it a few times experimentally. He stepped forward, stumbled a little on it, then took a few more steps.

“Hey, this kind of works,” he said, smiling despite himself.

“Hey! I’ll be wantin’ that back when we’re done, now!” said Pucker, laughing.

“Done with what?” said John, feeling a deep pit opening up in his stomach as Pucker looked at him gravely.

“Well, I don’t really know how to put this…” Pucker pulled at his little beard with a cloven hand again thoughtfully, “…but how’s yer singin’ voice?”

“What’s that got to do with anything?” said John nervously.

“Just come on,” said Pucker, turning back and stamping off into the trees. 

John rushed after him, wobbling a little unsteadily on his uneven legs as he stumbled around trees and over rocks, always a few feet behind the pooka, not quite able to draw level. Every once in a while, the creature would reach into its pocket, pull out another of the little brown bags, hold it up to its face, and inhale deeply. Each time he did so, his walking pattern became slightly more erratic, though he never once slowed down.

Eventually they came to another clearing, much like the one they had just left, though it was at least three times wider. Pucker stopped at the edge and pointed with a hoof to a three-foot blackened tree stump in the center of the clearing.

“What?” said John, looking from Pucker to the stump. “What do you want me to do?”

“It’s not what I want. It’s what they want.” He swept his gaze around the circumference of the clearing. As John looked around he noticed the silhouettes of many tiny creatures, their eyes little white pinpoints in the darkness among the trees, and they seemingly jostled each other for position to be close to the front.

“What are they?” said John nervously.

“They’re cantankerous little pricks, is what they are!” said Pucker, grinding his teeth. He shook his head, blinking erratically. “Sorry, bit too much glue. Um, they’d probably like you to think of them as the Fair Folk.”

“What, like leprechauns?”

“Fuckin’ hell, pull yer head outta yer arse!” said Pucker, looking at him in shock. “Don’t use that word again, you’ll only make them mad. Now, y’see that stump there?”

“Uh, yeah,” said John, following Pucker’s pointed hoof once again.

“Right, yer gonna wanna go stand up on that and sing a song.”

“What d’you mean?” said John, confused.

“You know what a song is, right?” said the pooka, starting to sound rather fed up. “You go over there, you stand up on that stump, and you sing a song of your own devising. You must make it up yourself, and it has to be at least three verses.” And with that Pucker placed a hoof on John’s back and shoved him, with incredible force, out into the clearing.

As he stumbled out there was a tiny chorus of cheers and applause. He looked around nervously as he made his way slowly to the tree stump, put his right leg up on it, and hoisted the dog’s leg up after. As he did so, an expectant hush fell over the shrouded assembly.

He placed one arm across his naked, pasty-white chest, took a deep breath, and sang as best he could—which, as it turned out, was completely tunelessly. He tried to think of all the songs he had ever heard and just sang the first words that popped into his head. “Uuuuuuuuuuum… Okay, how about…

“Weeeeeeell, I am not a farmer or a jailer or a…frog,

But you wouldn’t see me comin’ even…if you were a dog.

And…I’ve been to many places but I don’t go very far,

So I couldn’t be a sailor ’cause I haven’t got…a…car.” 

He turned and looked back at Pucker, who lowered the paper bag from his face and gave him as close an approximation of a thumbs-up as he could manage with his hoof-hands. John turned back to the crowd.

“Ooooooooh, I never learned to swim because my father was a…stone,

And my mother was a beggar and she…killed me with a bone.

I’m always home for Christmas ’cause me legs are made of bread,

And my uncle from Killarney doesn’t come because he’s dead.” 

There was a small round of cheers from the trees around him as he took a deep breath, amazed at how far he’s already gotten.

“Iiiiiiiiif you ever see me stumble you had best get out the way,

’cause I’ll fall on all your cousins and you’ll tell me not to stay.

I could never love another than my wicked brother Sean,

So won’t you cheer me on now, if you are a leprechaaaaaaaaaauun!”

There was a sharp intake of breath from all around him, followed by the sound of tiny feet scurrying through leaves as the dark shapes all around began to quickly take off into the forest. He turned to look around at Pucker for explanation just in time to see the pooka sprint past him.

“Come on, y’ big eejit! They’re getting’ away!” he shouted as he went by. John took off after him, his one dog leg moving much faster than the other as he stumbled along behind Pucker. They broke through the tree line, and there in the distance John saw, wobbling around, a human leg. It was moving horizontally along the ground, being carried by something unseen beneath it. “There it is!” shouted Pucker triumphantly. “After it!”

They both changed direction, running straight for the leg as it jiggled along the forest floor quickly, though not nearly fast enough as John, finally drawing level with Pucker, leapt forward and grasped his retreating ankle. He felt a strong pull on the other end of the leg as the twisted little man from his nightmare grasped onto the thigh of the leg, looking at him angrily.

“Would you let go, y’ bloody thief!” screamed the little man, his voice high-pitched and whiny. “Let go o’ me leg!”

“Now, now, Finn!” said Pucker, kneeling down beside the leg and looking sternly at the little man. “Give the man his leg back.”

“It’s my leg!” the little man insisted. “Sure, haven’t I had it since I was just a little boy?!”

“No, you haven’t!” said Pucker, laughing to himself. “And sure, when were you ever a little boy?”

“How about a trade?” said the little man, still tugging at the leg, though a little less enthusiastically now. “I’ll give yeh the leg for one of yer arms!”

“What?!” shouted John. “You’ve had enough off me already!”

“He’s right, y’know,” said Pucker. “Sure, didn’t he give yeh that song?”

“That song was just a bunch of nonsense and non sequiturs.” He took one hand off the leg and pointed accusingly at John. “Not to mention it was bloody racist, to boot!”

“Ah, sure, he didn’t know.” Pucker reached out, grabbed the leg, and tugged it away from them with his immense strength. “Now, you know the rules! He gets his leg back!”

“I oughta curse the pair a ye’s!” said the little man, jumping up and down on the spot in a rage. Pucker reached into his coat pocket, pulled out what looked like a can of spray paint, and threw it at the little man, who darted out of the way and ran off into the trees.

“You fuck off or I’ll give ya the worst hidin’ of yer life!” he shouted after him, but the little man was already gone. He looked down at the ground where the little man had been, and there among the leaves was a small canvas bag. He nodded at it. “That yours?”

“It is and all!” John exclaimed as he grabbed it and picked it up.

“Right then,” said Pucker, “let’s get you fixed up.”


John looked down at his toes and wiggled them, smiling elatedly as the feeling flooded back into them. He looked over at Pucker, who was standing next to John’s tent with his arms folded.

“Well? Is it workin’ okay?” he asked.

“Yeah!” said John, beaming. “It’s great! Thank you so much!”

Pucker took a few steps forward until he was just a few inches from John and grinned evilly. Suddenly John felt incredibly small and vulnerable. He looked up into the strange face with its dirty hair, horns, and rectangular pupils and was suddenly reminded of how frightened he had been when he had first seen that face. Pucker leaned forward until John could feel his hot, wet breath blasting him in his face.

“You owe me now,” he growled.

“Oh God, what do you mean?” whimpered John.

“I got you yer leg back. You caught me in a good mood, I’ll give yeh that. But I’m never in that much of a good mood.” His smile got slightly broader and a lot more sinister. “I do believe I’ll be takin’ something from yeh.”

“W-w-w-what? What’ll you be taking?” John stuttered. He briefly considered turning and running away but remembered how fast and strong the beast had been before. Pucker looked past him at the contents of his canvas bag, now spilled out on the ground.

The pooka nodded at an aerosol can.

“What’s that?” he said, eyeing it hungrily.

John followed his gaze and said, “Oh, that’s a spray for waterproofing material, y’know, like tents and such.”

“Has it got a warnin’ on it?”

“Uh, yeah,” said John, backing off, crouching down and picking it up.

“I’ll have that then!” said Pucker, snatching it from his hand. The pooka smiled at him, turned around, and walked off to the edge of the clearing. He turned back and smiled a friendly smile at John. “Will yeh be back next year? Only today’s been a good old riot, I must say.”

“Uh, I don’t think so,” John mumbled.

“Oh,” said Pucker sadly. “That’s an awful shame. Well, sure if yer ever about here again, just give us a shout.” and with that he turned around, stepped out of the circle, and vanished.

John quickly grabbed some clothes, got dressed, and put on his coat. He bent down and was about to start pulling out the tent pegs when he paused, said, “Bugger this!”—stood up, pointed himself to where he remembered the nearest bus stop being, and ran.




At some point in the mid-nineties Kevin Lenaghan got lost in Irish folklore and still hasn’t found his way out. These days he mostly hides behind a keyboard in Belfast, writing short stories about the things he catches glimpses of in the hedgerows.

Image source: Cristofer Maximilian/Unsplash

Follow Vol. 1 Brooklyn on TwitterFacebook, and sign up for our mailing list.