Friday Fiction: The Wailing

Here’s the next installment of the Banshee story…

The bunch of flowers arrived on our doorstep the day of the funeral. The old ones always sent flowers, or chocolates, or made little oatcakes. Sometimes surviving family did the sending, sometimes the ‘thank-you’ tokens were organised as part of the ‘arrangements’. I couldn’t for the life of me see what they were thankful for.

Not everyone sent gifts though. Younger people often didn’t even realise what had happened, or put no faith in the ‘silly local superstition”. Lucky them. I wished the calling in my blood could fade away like the old beliefs – a silly folktale that no longer served any purpose. But it didn’t work like that.

“Sabine! Come and put these in some water!”

I had long since learned it did no good to mope about and refuse the gifts. Mum would just make sure they ended up in my room, and do her best to make me feel like I was somehow offending the dead. Like they cared anymore.

The flowers were purple irises. Pretty. I set them on my desk and tried to ignore them and finish my biology homework. It wasn’t difficult; I was naturally good at biology. Must have something to do with the full-colour, no-gory-detail-spared visions of how people were going to die.

I had my first vision when I was 13. I was washing the dog out in the yard and started to feel a kind of pressure in my head, not a headache exactly, that came afterwards, this was more like someone blowing up a balloon in my skull.  Then I could just see it – the artery closing, the heart struggling to pump the blood out, but filling up instead. And then my view changed and I saw Mrs McNaulty from down the road gasp and clutch her chest. It was all over in a few seconds. I ran inside terrified. Mum tried to comfort me but she was obviously pleased. Not that she was happy Mrs McNaulty was going to have a heart attack, but the genes were only passed on to girls, and usually to only one girl per banshee family, per generation. Mum’s sister had been a ‘wailer’ but she’d only had sons. I got the impression that mum had always been a bit jealous of her sister’s ‘gift’ and was proud her daughter would be next. Lucky me.

I’d gone to stay with Aunty Cora for a few weeks afterwards to learn how it all worked. She took me out to Mrs McMaulty’s house that night and sat with me until the time came.  She held my hand when the scream tore out of my throat, and gave me icecream when I could barely speak the next day. Aunty Cora tried very hard to make me feel like I was special, like I’d been chosen to take over the family business. I just wish we owned a fish and chip shop instead.

I cried when I heard Mrs McNaulty had passed away. Exactly one week after Aunty Cora and I had sat below her window and I wailed for the first time. It always happened a week after the vision but I guess it just wasn’t really ‘real’ to me until I saw the ambulance in her driveway. I’d taken to walking past her house every day on the way home from school, and every day I saw her in her garden or sitting on the verandah I’d thought that it was all just a silly mistake. She’d smile at me and nod her head, like we had some kind of secret. Then she was gone, and a packet of oatcakes arrived with a thank-you card.

Mum and Aunty Cora called it ‘the gift’. I called it ‘the curse’. Banshees see death, but they can’t stop it. What’s the point of an early-warning system if you can’t change anything? If the person is just going to die anyway? I asked Aunty Cora and she said that a Banshee’s job is to allow people to make their peace with the world before they pass on, to tie up loose ends, or set anything right that needed fixing.

“But that only works if they know that they’ve been warned!” I’d argued.

“Surely the old stories are going to die out, once all the old people have passed on, and none of the young ones will even know what the wail means, so what’s the point?”

Aunty Cora had just smiled. “You’d be surprised how many folks around here still believe in the old ways.”

That much was unfortunately true. I’d caught my best friend Molly tying a lock of her hair in a knot and slipping it into Bryon’s school bag last week. When I confronted her she just grinned and said, “well grandma said it worked on grandpa – it’s worth a shot!”

I don’t know why they even bother teaching science at our school.


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