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Murphy’s Smear

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Early last winter, Gordon Murphy, the president of the venerable Green Goat badminton and rugby club outside Galway, made a startling catch, and it wasn't on the sporting green, either. He may be the first man in history to capture, in excellent condition, a sheery from the local bogs, a notorious haunt for these Will O' the Wisps.

But perhaps more amazing than the discovery itself is the how behind it. Mr Murphy's fairy was found tangled in the club's own badminton net, which the gardener had neglected to take down the night before.

"I was about ready to find me cane and give that lad a really good thrashing," says Murphy as he meditatively strolls the grounds of his club, "when I saw something in the net what was movin' about. Thought it was a bird or some such, struggling to get free and messing with me net. But it had a bit of a faint aura about it, so I was intrigued."

Murphy looked closer and sure enough, he recognized the glowing thing for what it was, a captive marshlight. So he did what any man would do in his situation, he got a Mason jar and came back to stash his trophy clean away. "I'd never heard of a marshlight granting wishes," admits Murphy, "but then again I never heard of no one catching one neither. So I took me chances and got the jar. My reason told me that if this puck wouldn't give me no fortune I'd strangle him anyways on account of me dead brother, what was led straight into the bog by one of 'em tein sidhe," says Murphy, invoking his native tongue.

To get the fairy into the jar, Murphy took the sputtering thing by its gossamer wings and started unwinding a string from the net that was wound about its leg. Unfortunately, he was not to be rewarded for his efforts. Not directly at least.

"Damn thing spat in me face and flew off," says Murphy over warmed whisky inside the clubhouse's well-appointed study. "It was a strange, sparkling, enchanting kind of bogie but it was a bogie nonetheless. And a bogie's bogie at that. I scraped it off me face with the lid and gobbed it into the jar. I keep it on this slide here, to show those what's curious."

With that he draws a small box down from off his study shelf, and opening it, produces two thin pieces of glass. True as blue skies, there lies a glittering smear of a gobber smashed between the panes.

"That may be the only specimen of its kind," he says with glowing pride. "True marshlight snot. I should frame it, but I'd like it appraised first, for insurance reasons, you know." Murphy would certainly be the first to claim ownership of actual fairy mucus, different by definition than ectoplasm. The Oxford Theosophical Society contacted Murphy regarding the specimen the same day his story ran in the local paper, requesting to borrow it for microscopic study and compare it to the ectoplasm held on file at their university library, but Murphy has ignored their requests. "They can shove it up their arses, which is more than likely what they'd do, too. Those buggers. I don't put me trust in Theosophists any further than I can fling 'em."

Murphy instead puts his trust in the Overland Mallet Club, and has twice visited Prof Marcus White at his Inverness residence, where studies linked the snot sample to a particular strain of sheerie living in a region further north from Galway. Agreeing that a marshlight has never before been captured, White declined to give his personal appraisal of the specimen. (Lloyd's of London, incidentally, has quoted Murphy a figure upwards of £2.000), saying that it was "extremely rare" and that prices for this sort of sample could go "ridiculously high if opened up for bidding. It's an odd market out there. But in my opinion, Murphy's best bet is to hang on to it. Hang on to it for all it's worth. That bogie's a keeper."

Which is exactly what our man at the Green Goat plans to do.

One man that's not so sure of Murphy's claim is Argus MacLeod, a seelie scholar and rival badminton and rugby club operator in Paisley, Scotland. "Murphy's a liar. You can't believe a word from 'at man," is the quote with which I am greeted upon being introduced as a journalist following the story of Murphy's smear. "That boy has been trouble since he took the reins at the Goat, and I'll hear no story contrary!"

That said, MacLeod is very open and willing to discuss specifics regarding Murphy's career, including alleged attempts at fraud in the past. According to MacLeod, Murphy has been the instigator of much hysteria across the countryside both in Ireland and Scotland. Crop circles, false burial sites of ancient kings, and artifact fraud are among the charges MacLeod hurls against Murphy. "And that bogie tops it all! I'd cripple the man on principle if I weren't such a gentleman!" roars MacLeod over his seventh scotch of the afternoon.

A stout Theosophist, the Scot goes on to explain that a few simple tests would reveal the true nature of the gobber. According to him, the technology offered by Madame Blavatsky's clan is much more advanced than Pook's Hill's. The interview ends soon afterward with an unconscious MacLeod and sober correspondent parting ways. No local records substantiate MacLeod's claims. Murphy dismisses all charges with a, "So you've met Mr Argus. Wrong in the head, that boy." And that is that.

Back at the Green Goat, the badminton lawn has been moved and a second net erected. The original site of the capture now boasts a larger net and a low fence around it. One with no gate. "I don't want nobody going into that area but me and Will," says Murphy, referring to the errant gardener who, after the discovery of the fairy and the ensuing offers of substantial amounts of cash for the slide, fell back into favour with his master. Instead, he and Will keep watch over the net, making it the first stop on their morning rounds at the club. The recount of his experiment thus far reveals that the lawn of the Green Goat Club is a regular corridor of fairy activity.

Have they netted any more samples? "Oh yes," admits Murphy immediately, "Almost one a fortnight, but most of those we throw back. Bleeding pixies and the like. What lad hasn't caught his fair share of those pests by the time he's twelve I don't know. Common stuff around here. No, we don't keep them. What's the use? Those buggers would just as soon see my head turned into a cabbage than spend time sealed up in a Mason jar. So I respect 'em and let 'em go. That's after I put one of these wee things on 'em." Murphy draws a tiny strip of dull metal out of an envelope he keeps on his desk. A serial number is embossed along its surface. It's a bird-banding device!

"We tried some made of what you might call your more modern metals, but the fairies never came back. They don't take so well to iron and the like. This bronze is a lot easier on 'em. They don't waste away quite so quick." Murphy is conducting his experiment with a few goals in mind. By observing the frequency of certain catches in his net, and by watching for his bands to return, he is testing a theory few have considered.

That fairies migrate.

"Everybody knows that fairies go from place to place for their parties and to hold their courts and whatnot. Well, I'm taking a different look at this. It's my theory that the fairies don't go home. Ever. That these are just stops along the way in their what you might call nomadic lifestyle."

Murphy posits that the days are gone in which fairies took up residence in certain hillocks and ruins. "There's too many people and too damn many cars. A soul can't go to one place what's not swarming with people, at least compared to a few hundred years ago. You've got to remember, the Good People have life spans of hundreds of years, and some live to be over a thousand years old. Them is the ones what watched it all happen, watched the people come and crawl all over every last piece of turf on the island."

As this experiment has had a recent start, Murphy hasn't had time to test his theory, but he's positive that his net will yield results. "I believe there's trends I'll be able to see. But this is going to be a long project."

And has the Green Goat seen any more marshlights? "Not a one. I'm most disappointed by that part, but I'm not a bit surprised. They're smarter than a soul figures, and it's my guess they won't be back too soon."

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