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An Iron Nail in Your Pocket
BY PERCIVAL DWIGHT
EXCERPTED FROM PHOOKA NO.426

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All sports that are enjoyed out of doors are encumbered by forces over which Man has no direct control. Weather is the most apparent of these factors, with topography and the local flora and fauna also to be considered. Any sportsman true to himself and his game will not look at these items as barriers to sport but rather as challenging variables tossed in by Fate.

With no sport is this as evident as it is in overland croquet. Hills and fields are traversed in pursuit of the next wicket. Balls are mercilessly chased through sunshine and rain without a thought toward anything but the game itself. The animals of Britain are for the most part docile and unthreatening, eager to stay far away from the stampeding hordes of summer’s greatest game. But overland croquet draws a new element that is for the most part peculiar to the sport: the meddling ways of the Fairy Kingdom. Let this article serve an education to the player who would rather be prepared for meetings with the most common fey to be found on the greensward in summer, the pixie.

Ethereal in nature, pixies spend most of their lives on a plane separate from the one humans inhabit. In their regular forms, which are composed of pure light and energy, pixies are nearly invisible to Man, and for the most part harmless. In this form they appear to us only as flashes of light that may as well come from sunlight shining off a newly-polished bucket, so fleeting and sharp are their maneuvers. It is when the pixie transforms itself, through dedicated concentration, into a material being, that it becomes a bother.

Pixies are most likely to inhabit the battlegrounds or burial sites of the early tribes. Mounds of the ancient kings are favourite haunts, but any builder who would construct a course on such ground is asking for trouble from more than just the Fairy Kingdom. The fey may not be guarding the site, but the designer may rest assured that other spirits are.

The pixies are chiefly interested in pranks, apparent in the continuous mischief they visit upon the course and its players. Many wicketers have paused before swinging their mallet as they notice a sudden change in the surroundings. This is the effect of the tricks of the fey. Through speed, surprising strength (given their diminutive size—most pixies stand no taller than a man’s shin), and their ability to “enchant” humans into thinking no mischief is afoot, pixies are able to pull stunts like switching a wicketer’s shoes, turning the mallet upside-down in mid-swing, or trading the places of two balls on the course. Any of these incidents can set the players on edge and ruin the game.

In the history of the Fairy Kingdom, iron is a fairly recent introduction. Like most new inventions, iron tools proved to be the bane of the fey. Iron nails house all the qualities of the substance in a useful form. Simply carrying an iron nail in your pocket whilst on the course will lessen your chances of a random encounter with solitary pixies. When an infestation of pixies onto the greensward occurs, more drastic measures are called for.

One particularly effective method of combining overland equipment and anti-fey tactics is to drive an iron nail into one’s croquet ball. As the ball rolls along the turf, the iron nail creates a corresponding line over which pixies cannot cross. Using this method on standard croquet greenswards virtually guarantees protection from fairy raids. Some players claim the nail’s presence affects the ball’s roll. This has not been seen in any of the “spiked” balls this writer has observed. Purists will want to steer clear of this method, though, because it introduces a foreign object onto the course. (Here I assume that players interested in ridding their course of sprites would be keen to remove all alien influences from the game.) An iron fence around the entire border of your course will repel all fey influence, but be sure that none are inside when the fence goes up, or you’ll be stuck with them.

Croquet balls aren’t the only equipment the player may modify to introduce iron to the game. An iron nail driven into a mallethead will transfer some of its energy to the ball—and will keep the fairies away from the mallet—but certainly isn’t as effective as the nail-in-ball method. Iron wickets are standard on most courses, and do produce a low energy field that repels fairies, but the space between wickets is often great enough that no protection is afforded to wicketers more than twenty yards away from a hoop.

A cousin of the pixie, the stray sod employs a more direct approach to mucking things up. Disguised as a divot of turf much like those uprooted by zealous players, the stray sod is bent upon a specific kind of enchantment. If trod upon, the sod will poison the player’s mind with a sudden sense of misdirection. This confusion is known as being “pixie-led.” Well-known fields lose their familiarity and common landmarks disappear. As with pixies, stray sods are fatally allergic to iron. For overland players who prefer to wear cleats, iron spikes will deter the liveliest stray sod.

The practise of turning one’s coat inside out to deflect the enchantments of the pixie is unadvised for wicketers, as it ruins the appearance of the outfit. To this end, select Saville Row tailors have taken to attaching their label to the outer sleeve of their jackets. The jacket appears fine to all observers, but to pixies it is inside out and they will offer its wearer no trouble.

One of the pixie’s favourite tricks is to employ “glamour” against the senses of its human victims. Glamour is the power of illusion, the magic that makes things appear differently from what they truly are. Such magic is used for fairy revels, transforming hillsides into palaces and banquet halls. If the proceedings should happen to be interrupted by humans, the entire scene can vanish in the blink of an eye. Glamour differs from true illusion in the sense that it is real so long as the viewer believes it to be so. Therefore, food made of glamour can be eaten and will nourish its eater unless he becomes aware that it wasn’t “real,” at which point it will vanish from his body instantly. This can be especially unfortunate if the human has been living on glamour for more than a few days.

Along these lines, a croquet ball made of glamour will run wickets just as well (some say better) as any other ball. Pixies used such a trick in the 1901 Glastonbury Trounce, hiding the ball of OMC president Fergus McAnnis in a thicket and replacing it with one made of glamour. The ball ran its next few wickets flawlessly, but then went on a most erratic path into a wooded part of the course. McAnnis followed the ball into a cave from which his body was never recovered. His original ball rests on display at the legendary museum of Professor Marcus White, in Inverness. It is hoped that the readers of Phooka need no more encouragement in their fight against the meddlesome and potentially deadly forces of the fey.

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