You stumble out of the pub, surprised by the darkness. How long were you in there? You lost track of the time around six tankards in. The world lurches as you step out onto the muddy road so you stop, wait for the spinning to stop, and try to remember which way back to the farm where the rest of your companions have made camp for the night.
“You are new here, I think,” you hear someone say, and you squint into the darkness, looking for the source of the voice and see only a black horse in the road. “Long ago, I lived in this house,” the horse says.
“Why you talking,” you slur back at the horse.
“Do you want to know how you’ll die?” the horse asks.
“I said do you need a ride home? You look like you’re having some trouble, friend.”
“I forget where to go, there’s a farm,” you say, struggling to remember the path between here and there.
“It’s okay, I know where you’re going. Why don’t you hop on, we’ll get you home,” the horse says, lowering its head and pawing at the ground.
You’ve been on your share of adventures, seen a lot of the world, and encountered creatures you still struggle to explain or understand. Still, with all that experience and the added courage that comes with drinking a lot of booze, you aren’t sure if you should trust this talking horse.
“I dunno about this.”
“Look man, do what you want. Sleep in the street, it doesn’t make any difference to me. I’m just trying to do the neighborly thing, here.”
“I don’t wanna sleep in the street.”
“Of course not, it’s so cold tonight. So how ‘bout you hop on and we get you back to your friends?”
The horse makes a good point, it is cold. You should probably just accept the ride.
“Okay horse, you win. Take me home.”
You put a hand on the horse’s neck and hold a fistful of mane, clumsily pulling yourself onto its broad back. As soon as you swing your leg over the horse bolts, and you struggle to hold on, pretty sure you can hear it laughing at you.
Looks like you’ve met a Puca.
The puca is a creature from Irish folklore that is known more for mischief than malice. These shapeshifters assume animal form, most often appearing as horses or rabbits to bring a mix of good and bad fortune to the rural villages they call home. Unlike many creatures from the same region, the puca is capable of human speech and loves to talk, often beginning conversations by saying “You are new here, I think. Long ago, I lived in this house.” It’s said that the puca can also assume human form, though it will always retain an animal feature like a tail or ears, and tell people about horrible misfortunes in their futures before laughing and running off.
Pucas tend to show up around Samhain, spoiling any crops that aren’t harvested before November. Farmers would leave a small portion of their crops unharvested as an offering to the puca, calling it the “puca’s share.” If a puca earns the respect and deference it thinks it deserves, it will help out around the farm, milling flour and planting seeds in the night. It won’t entirely give up its mischievous ways, but overall the farm and village will prosper.
If a puca feels slighted, however, it will spoil crops—some accounts are politely coy about their methods, but others specify that it’s, uh, puca excrement that renders fruits and veggies indedible. They’ll also destroy fences and property, and keep cows from producing milk and chicken from laying eggs. While most stories of the puca describe a trickster, tales from some villages describe the puca as a malevolent force, its residents regarding the puca with fear.
But the puca’s all-time favorite trick is to mess with drunks, taking on the appearance of a horse and convincing the inebriated into climbing onto its back only to take off on a breakneck, reckless ride through the countryside, crashing through fences, leaping over streams, finally throwing their shaken rider as dawn breaks.
So, what do you do if you cross paths with the puca?
First, check the calender. November 1st is Puca’s Day, the only day of the year the puca is guaranteed to behave itself. If you see a puca on November 1st, they’ll be chatty but you can expect to come through it unscathed.
If you meet a puca any other day of the year, no promises that it will be a pleasant encounter. There are no descriptions of fighting a puca, so expect that this chaotic creature is clever and quick enough to avoid hand to hand combat.You should be wary of any talking animals, first of all, and of any humans with animal ears unless you’d like a horrifying glimpse into your future. Detecting magic may help you avoid a shapeshifter masquerading as an animal, or stop it from changing forms. There’s also one story of an Irish king, Brian Boru, managing to control a puca by using a bridle made with a few puca hairs. If you can manage to pluck a few hairs from the creature’s tail, that may be key to managing its mischief.
Dex Dylan is the founder and acting president of the International Society of Astrocryptozoology. For decades, Dex has scoured the skies and seas (and sometimes the land, but honestly it’s so crowded) for hints of unusual life forms, and has done extensive research into the possible existence of chupacabras on Mars.