The Banshee’s Bargain
By Cathy Collar
The night was black as onyx, with nar a sliver of a moon in the sky. That is when he heard it, the dreaded Banshee’s cry.
Thomas O’Brian sat by the fire in his stately country home. His family had lived in this old manor for centuries and now it looked like he would soon be forced to leave it. If only he could have a little more time, he thought. He had sent his latest manuscript to his editor a month ago in hopes of a new beginning. It was a murder/ mystery. They were hot on the market right now and his new characters were evil and conniving, everything the new readers lusted for. It really wasn’t the type of writing he wanted to do, but hopefully it would diminish the burden of bills strung across his mahogany desk.
Thomas leaned back in his chair, staring into the mesmerizing fire. Where were the good ole days when people wanted to read about love and the splendor of falling into it? Where were the dreamers, the artist, and the believers in magic? Had the world become so tech trained that our young people’s imagination had simply faded into nonexistence?
He was lost in thought when he first heard it, the sound of a screech owl right outside his window. He quickly opened the drapes and peered out into the darkness looking for his childhood friend. The blackness of the night engulfed everything outside. Thomas opened the window and leaned into the fresh crisp air. He listened intently, in search of the bird. Only the sound of the chirping crickets greeted his ears.
Thomas slowly closed the window and went back to his seat by the fire. It would have been nice to have seen that old owl one more time before he left. Maybe he still could. The bank had given him one week to come up with money for his loan. Thomas prayed his editor would be quick with his response.
Another screech filled the air, followed by a loud knock at Thomas’ front door.
Who would be visiting at this late hour he wondered as he walked briskly to the entryway. He opened the door cautiously peering into the darkness. Nobody was there.
“Who’s come knocking on my door at such an indecent hour?” he yelled into the night.
His answer was another screech, this time coming from inside his house. Thomas now knew who awaited him inside and it definitely was not his old friend owl.
He turned and slowly made his way back to the fire. Her timing was horrible. He wasn’t ready to meet his maker. He had so many things left to do, but most important, he needed to get his novel published so he could leave his family debt free. The bank had given him one more week. She wouldn’t.
As he entered the parlor, he was greeted by a beautiful woman dressed to the nine in the latest fashion. She had already poured herself a brandy from the decanter that always sat on the sidebar. In fact she had made herself right at home. She took a dainty sip of the sweet liquor and sat back in her chair, smiling.
Thomas had heard that the Banshee could take this guise, but he really didn’t believe it was true. Apparently he was wrong. He poured himself a whiskey and sat down in the chair facing hers. “I’m glad to see someone will get enjoyment from my death,” he said nonchalantly twirling his drink.
“I do enjoy my work.” The Banshee’s voice was sweet has honey. “But in your case this is not necessarily so.” She gave Thomas a sly smile and finished her brandy in one large gulp. “Ahh,” she said that’s better, now I will have a taste of your fine whiskey.
Fetch it for me will you?”
Thomas rose and filled her glass with the amber liquid. When he turned around the beauty was gone and before him sat the Banshee Hag, dressed in grey, with long, pale hair and a toothless grin.
“Ah yes, a lady would never drink whiskey, but this old hag loves it,” she said smacking her gums.
Thomas shrunk a little from the mere sight of her. Here was the Banshee of his nightmares; the legendary taker of the dead. His hand shook as he handed the glass back to her. She grabbed it with wicked clawed hands and finished it in one gulp.
“Okay,” she said throwing the empty glass into the fire. “It is time to get down to business.” She rose and spread her arms out wide. Opening her mouth, she flung back her head ready to call the death coach to Thomas’ front door.
“Pleas wait!” yelled Thomas. “I haven’t finished my drink. You wouldn’t deny a dying man his last drink, would you?”
“Well, I guess not.” The Banshee sat back down. “It is the least I can do, since you were so generous as to let me partake also.” She became again the beauty in the fashionable clothes.
“Thank you,” said Thomas sitting back down and slowly sipping his drink. He needed time to think. He studied the lady in front of him. What could he do for her? What kind of bargain could he offer her to give him the time he needed to make things right. He couldn’t leave his family in the mess he had created. He had to buy more time.
“Why do you do that?” he asked.
“Change back and forth like that.”
“Well, It is really quite simple.” The Banshee folded her small hands in her lap. “When I am not doing my duty, I am a lady. I have walked among mortals thus for centuries, but I cannot show this side of the banshee to many, for then they will not head my call. Mortals force me to become the Hag so that I can carry out my destiny and theirs. They fear death so therefore they must fear me. I prefer being the lady and will stay in this form until you have finished your drink. I am in no hurry. Death comes to all sooner or later. A little later for you will make no difference to me.”
“So, it does not have to happen tonight?”
“It happens whenever I give the final call. After I give the call for the Death Coach it will be too late. The Death Coach cannot return without a soul and this time it is coming for you, Thomas.”
“How long can you wait to give that last call?” asked Thomas.
“I can wait as long as I want. But why do you ask?” The lady's eyes narrowed.
“Because I would like to tell your story to the world before I go. With your help I would love to write a book about you and your life. All of the things you know, all of the adventures you have had. I want to try to make a difference in this world before I leave. I want to bring back the spark of magic that keeps you alive.”
“Why would you want to keep me alive in the minds of mortals when I am the one who will bring death to you?” The Banshee was again the old hag. “What trickery are you trying to play on me, Thomas?”
“It is not trickery that I propose to you, my dear lady,” Thomas raised his drink to the Hag, “but a bargain. I promise to write about you, the truth about you in all your gore and glory. But in return I need a boon from you.”
“What do you ask of me?”
“Let me write the book and then a few more. Give me time to present them to my editor. When I have sold enough books to cover my debts and set aside plenty for my family’s welfare, then you can make your call to the Death Coach. I will be ready.”
The old hag cackled. “No one is ever ready. But just for the sake of my good name and your clever mind, I will accept your bargain. We shall start tonight.”
The week went buy and somehow the bank had decided that it was a safe enough gamble to float Thomas' loan for another six months. His murder/mystery novel never found its way into publication, but his “The Life of a Banshee” series was an immediate hit.
Thomas sat outside his treasured country manor and awaited his lovely lady. He knew she would be coming tonight because his old friend the screech owl had come to bid him goodbye.
She walked up to him in her fine clothes and perfumed hair and took his hand. They headed down the road to meet his coach as the Banshee’s wail melded with the screech owl’s cry.
Copyright @ Cathy Collar March, 2013