The Pooka Plays Pool by Nic Steven
The pooka was playing his favourite game and his team were losing. This was of course far from impossible, but his pub side were top of the pool league in the town and their opponents sat near the bottom. They had a new player and looking at the scoreboard the pooka could see that this new player led in all his games. His team-mates at his end of the room were also winning.
At the other end where the pooka played, the scores were more as expected. His own side were doing better but not abnormally so. He smelt a magical rat.
When his next game finished, he excused himself to his opponent. ‘Back in a moment. You want a drink?’ His opponent asked for a pint, so he walked towards the other end of the room, where the door was. Oh yes. He could feel the power coming from the new player; a short, stocky, muscular guy with bad skin.
It could not stand against his own power of course. He could easily have turned the whole match around in his own team’s favour. But to him, the game of pool was sacred. Ever since he had first watched a game, he had been fascinated by the way the cue ball could be spun and made to stop, or run on, or spin to one side. He would not dream of using his powers to affect either his own game or anyone else’s.
He stepped out to the bar and bought the drinks, then returned to the match. His side would lose, but they could afford one loss. Then he would deal with the interloper.
After the match, he waved to the team captain. ‘Business,’ he said and walked out after the stocky guy. He slipped into a dog form and wandered after his quarry trying to look like a stray, though there were unlikely to be any stray extra-large wolfhounds in this town.
The stocky man didn’t walk far. They reached a terrace of tall houses with basements and the man descended the steps into the well and through the front door of the basement flat.
The pooka changed back to his human form and followed him down. He rang the bell. The man opened the door. ‘What the…’
The pooka pushed him back into the doorway and shoved him onto the ground. In the wolfhound form he landed on top of the man, his teeth inches from the man’s throat. The man changed. He became even shorter and stockier and his nose lengthened. A goblin.
The pooka became a man again but growled almost like a dog. ‘You do not cheat at pool. In fact, if I ever find you playing the game again, I will send you elsewhere. There are many realities, most of them extremely horrible. You got that?’
The goblin nodded, though his whole body shook so much the nod could hardly be distinguished. There was still a problem. Goblins could not resist trickery. He would try to cheat at the holy game. Probably not in this town or even this country but somewhere. The pooka could of course make good on his threat to banish him but he would prefer a more elegant solution. The game of pool relied upon the properties of spin and some trickery. Backspin could make the cue ball stop where a player wanted to leave it. A truly elegant trick was to place one of the opponent’s balls over a pocket but behind the eight ball. Thus, he could not pocket his last ball without fouling and losing the game. The pooka could beat the goblin by the very method he was using to win.
The pooka searched the flat, dragging the goblin with him as he went. He discovered a cue in a rack. Taking hold of it he poured much of his power into it.
‘Don’t break it,’ cried the goblin. The pooka granted that wish at least. Instead he reversed the magic, the goblin had put into it. Every time he used the cue it would drain power from him and give him ill luck. It would also attach itself to him so that he could use no other cue.
He also found a trove in a deep drawer in the bedroom. All coins, mostly the golden coloured ones. ‘You have a bank account?’
‘What, open one in the name of Hoblirt the Goblin,’ sneered the other. It was a fair comment.
‘I will take all this as a fine for cheating at pool,’ said the pooka.
‘But what about my rent? It’s due tomorrow.
The goblin told him, so the pooka threw that amount on the floor. Then as an afterthought he added a few extra coins. ‘There. Enough of a stake to get you started again. Cards, dice, boxing, anything but pool.’ The goblin nodded. The pooka put all the coins in a pouch that should have been much too small to hold them and turned to leave.
Then he looked at the goblin again. ‘What do you do with the notes? You must get notes.’
Spend them as soon as I can or change them. I like the coins.’
The pooka left and walked towards the pub. He wouldn’t be too late to join in the post-match booze up.