An American businessman’s best friend tags along for an assignment in Ireland, where he encounters a legendary, frightening Banshee.
hey settled into the little cottage the first day. Todd had company on the second; Billy already had to report to work. Barclay Fowler, renter of houses and used furniture, was the contact for Todd in Clare, and quite the character.
He was a short, cheerful Irishman with light curly hair and gold spectacles. He was talking to Todd and fixing a small problem with the peat stove, while, of course, enjoying a few cans of stout. Annie O’Halloran, a short, cheerful Irishwoman with light curly hair, whom Billy had employed as sometime housekeeper, was also there. Her 12-year-old boy Shane accompanied her, and Todd let him use his handheld video game. Annie was busy washing and hanging curtains while the pack of them had a breezy exchange.
“I should have this all ready for you shortly, Mr. Todd,” said Barclay.
“It’s Todd, please, and that’s fine Barclay, no rush. It’s October, it’s not that cold yet.” Todd was in a pretty good mood today. The sun shone bright on the green hills, greener than anywhere else on earth.
“Are you finding everything okay, Mr. Todd?” Annie shouted from her ironing board.
“It’s Todd and yes, so far so good, Annie. You know, I did want to ask you both some things. I’ll just get my notes.”
“Now, I know we’re living in this section called the Burren,” Todd called out on his way back into the room. “But what does that mean, exactly?”
“Well you see,” Barclay said, “it’s a sort of a moon like landscape. I think it’s actually a limestone plateau that used to be a seabed. But you’ll have the devil of a time trying to walk around here. People are better off sticking to the roads. You’ll kill yourself.’
Todd remembered his dream on the plane.
“A magical place, the Burren,” Barclay continued. “There’s lots of different types of wildlife, but not a tree can grow. And with the fog always rolling in the way it is, people have seen some strange doings. Strange doings.”
“Go on with yourself now, Barclay,” Annie scolded.
“No, no, I want to hear this.” Todd’s interest was peaked. “I love all that stuff, what doings?”
“Well, across the way, over the lands, there’s Polnabrone. It’s said to be the tomb entrance of an ancient people. Magical place, that. The faerie folk are strong with that place.”
“The faerie folk are strong with your drink,” Annie chimed.
“Never you mind now,” Barclay countered. “Many a man’s spoke of hearing the ban-shee out there.”
“Ah, yes, the woman who cries out when, what is it?” Todd asked.
“When someone’s dead!” It was Shane coming in from the parlor. He’d lost interest in the video game. The adults were onto something interesting.
“Em, Shane, read some of your paper for Mr. Todd,” said Annie.
“Aw, Ma,” Shane protested.
“Look, call me Todd.” He was ignored. “Ah, never mind.”
“Do it now and don’t be ‘aw ma’ing me,” Annie said. “Shane researched the Banshee for school, Mr. Todd. Oh, what a paper. He was at the Internet Cafe every night. Get it Shane.”
Shane was hunting in his school bag. “Keep your shirt on, Ma.”
“And you mind your tongue.”
“I got it.” Shane began to read. “The Banshee, or in the old Irish Bean-sidhe, which means woman of the Faerie, is an ancestral spirit appointed to forewarn members of certain major Irish families at the time of their death. Intermarriage widens the circle of those in her care, and she will even follow family members across the ocean. She can appear as one of three forms: a young woman, a stately matron, or a raddled old hag. This represents the triple aspects of the Celtic Goddess of War and Death, Badhbh, Macha and Mor-Rioghain”
“Good isn’t it?” Annie prodded.
“Oh…uh…yes. Shane, go on please.” Todd was genuinely interested.
“She may also appear as a washerwoman washing the blood stained clothes of those about to die. In this form she’s said to be a woman who had died in childbirth, and she’s known as the Bean-nighe.”
At this image, Todd was unnerved. A chill ran through him.
“I never knew a Banshee only cries for certain families,” Todd said.
“Well, it’s pretty wide-ranging,” Barclay said. “For instance, you are a Griffin. Now, Griffith is one of the families, which is in the same root. Then of course you’ve told me your grandmother was O’Brien, yes?”
“Yes, Elizabeth O’Brien.”
“So, now, there, you’re definitely in. You would hear her. Now I’m a Fowler, which isn’t a family, but my dear mother, God rest her, was a Connolly, which is one. And Mr. Todd, I swear as sure as I’m standing here, I heard the Ban-shee the night she passed.”
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph preserve us,” said Annie. She was not joking.
“Now this crying,” Todd asked. “Is it like singing, or…”
“Shane, the expert, anything on that?” said Annie.
Shane rolled his eyes but read on. “In Leinster, she’s known as the keening woman. Her wail can be so piercing it shatters glass. In Kerry, the keen is a low, pleasant singing, in Aran, a screech somewhere between a woman and an owl.”
“Keening?” Todd said.
“Yes,” it was Annie who responded now. “At Irish wakes there used to be a lot of this. The family of the deceased would actually hire professional mourners, or Keeners. They were women who cried and wailed in a ritual manner, with sounds and musical tones.”
Barclay couldn’t keep silent. “The groups of keeners used to compete for the business. Sometimes they’d get into a battle right at the wake. Some thought the keening went back to a kind of spiritual language for communicating to spirits. I’d love to commune with a beautiful Ban-shee.”
“You wouldn’t know what to do with her if you did catch her,” laughed Annie.
“Em, you’d be surprised the young lass interested in me, woman. I was just with her today.”
“It had to be last night, for it was in your dreams,” Annie said, making Shane giggle.
All were silenced now, as Barclay went back to his work, deflated.
* * *
Eileen looked troubled. She sat the closest to the kitchen, on the edge of the group. Todd noticed.
“What’s wrong Eileen?”
“Wait, wait, shut up folks, hold on a second,” she said. “Does anyone besides me hear that?”
“Hear what?” said Billy.
“I don’t know, like a moaning.”
“She’s right, listen.”
They all got very silent. It was jarring as contrasted to their noisiness all evening. Indeed, a distant moan was heard; a woman, sorrowful and grief stricken. They sat in the candlelit room breathless. It was well after midnight, and all of the windows were enveloped by fog. Another moan, longer, closer and creepier
“Shit, man,” Connor said.
“What?’ asked Deirdre.
“You don’t want to know,” he replied.
“I’m not sure I’m hearing anything,” said Jim.
ANOTHER WAIL, very close and loud. Some of the crystal shook and tinkled. Everyone jumped.
“Christ!” Jim cried as he got startled.
“It’s been fun,” said Eileen, standing.
“You’re not going out there?” Deirdre asked, frightened. Todd put his arm around her and rubbed her shoulder.
“Look guys, we’re all adults here, a lady got some bad corned beef,” said Billy.
“Not funny, Billy,” Kathleen squealed, leaning into Billy’s neck.
“It’s a Banshee,” said Connor.
“Oh, what the f…” Billy protested.
“I’m not shitting man, someone’s dying tonight.” The women gasped at once, along with Jim.
Todd was more than convinced. “I’ve got to see this,” he said rising and grabbing his jacket. Deirdre tried to keep hold of his arm but he broke free easily.
“Please don’t Todd,” she said, she was really scared.
“What? No, you’re crazy, man,” said Jim, whose manhood was becoming questionable.
“Uh, Toddy, can I talk to you in the kitchen, excuse me babe,” said Billy, almost dumping Kathleen on the cold stone floor as he rose.
The two left the room.
“What the fuck are you doing man?” Billy protested when he had Todd alone.
“What?” Todd shot back.
“There is a beautiful girl in there that wants you, man. You’ve been crying for years about being so damn horny. If you leave now the party’s over.”
“Todd,” Billy’s tone became grave. “Look man, you do more exercise than you’re supposed to. You know what the Docs said…”
“Screw the Docs, Bill,” Todd was growing angry now, “it’s not their life, and it doesn’t matter, not one fucking bit!” He stormed out the door, leaving it open.
“Don’t touch her, man. If you touch her or mess with her, you may die tonight! That’s what the legends say,” Connor called after him, but Todd didn’t hear.
Todd stared into the foggy abyss. He was already stumbling a few feet from the house and couldn’t see a thing in front of him. He followed the wails as best he could.
It was when he was out of sight of the house that he saw her. She was only twenty feet away. Surrounded in mist, she looked more like a white glowing orb, with the figure of a woman all in white barely discernable in the center. The sight of the specter and the unearthly wailing were heart stopping. Todd was paralyzed; it surprised him how frightened he was. He questioned his own judgment in coming out here. He wanted to turn and go, but something stopped him.
He couldn’t take his eyes off the creature. The apparition suddenly stopped. It was hard to recognize body movement within the glow, but he swore it turned and looked at him! It stayed that way a few seconds, then began to move again. It grew larger. It was coming at him!
Now Todd turned and ran, as fast as he could toward where he hoped the house was. His heart and breathing both raced, and the sound of them filled his ears, but he could make out the cries behind him, more urgent as they approached and got louder, almost like a scream finally. He soon made out the shape of the cottage and thanked God. The screaming was closer than ever. He couldn’t bear to turn around. He felt breathing right behind him as he raced for the open backdoor and got through, slamming it behind him.
© Richard Alan Scott