Here’s an old story…. owing more than a little to Poe, The Monkey’s Paw, and a zillion ghost stories. Enjoy!
Happy Halloween, all…
Sometimes I think it’s only madness that makes us who we are. Fear molds us — fear of the unknown can make even the strongest man weak in the knees. Guilt can crack the strongest fortress; but guilt can prove a man’s character as well. Both love and hate are deadly, and either can drive a man to violent passions. But without madness, can justice ever truly be served? And in the end, is it not madness that gives us depth, diversity, and character? Is it not madness which compels us to perform acts of such horrendous animosity?
On the desolate western coast of this isolated Scottish isle was my act committed. I sat on a rock, playing my flute; breathing a haunting melody that sent ripples of discord splashing through my soul. I sat on the seashore, trying to still my troubled heart, which beat like a steam train inside my chest.
She was such an utter nag! Yes, deep in my heart, I believe that’s why I did it. It was her constant nagging that drove me, in the end, to murder. It’s hard, sometimes, to believe that I once loved her. But she was not my true love. Such a delicate creature, my wife was. So, in the heat of the moment, my hate engulfing my body, killing her was a very simple task. Painfully simple. So, countless nights before, when she came to bed, I put her out of her misery. She felt no pain. The faint, nauseating aroma of ether, and a pillow over her face were the last things she knew. It was over in mere moments. It was a peaceful death. Then I took her body and cast it into the sea, where at least she would serve some purpose — as food for the fish. At first, I was very pleased with myself.
But the gnawing at my brain was so intense — the guilt pangs that plagued my heart, and the sheer terror of my nightmares, became too much. So that now, to appease my tormented soul, I sat there still, watching the sunrise, the winds breathing through my hair, and playing a song of such sadness and grief that even the skies screamed their cries of mourning.
I was now all alone in the world. The cabin in which I lived on the island was all I had. It was very lonely now that she was gone — irritating though she might have been , she was a companion…NO! I couldn’t think like that! I had no guilt, no remorse. I was glad she was dead. Yes, glad she was dead.
As I played, the day grew long, and full of wonder. I began to imagine strange, most fascinating things. I wondered what it would be like to be dead. I threw rocks at her body, aimlessly, and laughed. I was getting quite giddy. I watched the sun caress the waves like a thoughtless lover, and I felt cold and distant, and somehow envious. The wind whispered sorrow-filled laments that echoed across the water and struck my heart like an arrow, piercing the darkness that lay there, and letting it flow, like blood; filling my head with a cold, numbing haze. I shivered coolly; stood up from the rock where I was sitting, and said my final goodbye to the body that lay staring at me through the glassy sheen of the water. I picked up the largest rock I could find, and dropped it on her already lifeless body. I stood for a short moment, and watched her sink, her dead eyes staring up at me until the darkness of the sea mercifully dragged her body down out of sight. I hopped along the rocks, back to the shore, and went inside, leaving my grief down in the ocean.
Once inside, I began to do a sort of housecleaning. I searched like a surgeon looking for a cancerous tumor for anything that was a part of her. Pictures, knick-knacks; her dolls — they were first. Because these things were a cancer of a sort — eating away at me from within. Her things were her love, her obsession, and so they, too, must be destroyed. Like a jealous husband who attacks an unfaithful wife’s lover, I went around the house creating chaos of anything that was previously more important than I ever was to her. I started a fire, and threw every and any remembrance of her in it. I threw in pictures, I threw in clothes, I threw in everything. Then I sat, all alone, watching her life and all her precious things become eaten, blackened, and destroyed by the cruel flames. I tried to sleep, but I was afraid to dream. Not being able to face reality anymore, I went to the cupboard and poured myself a tall glass of whiskey. I make my own, and it is very strong, so it was not long before I passed out.
I woke up abruptly, after having slept for quite a while. (The sun was getting low in the sky.) I had awakened to the sound of a woman singing. At first I thought it was maybe the waking remnant of a dream, but then it came again. Now I wasn’t very drunk to begin with, but when I heard that voice, I sobered up in a hurry. I got up out of the chair that I had collapsed in, and stumbled my way to the door. I opened it ever so slowly with one hand, while wiping the sweat that had accumulated like a spring morning’s dew off my forehead. I raised my eyes to the small crack that I had made in the doorway. I saw nothing. I opened the door a little more. Still nothing. I slammed the door, and scampered back into the darkness of the room.
Smoke rose from the fireplace where I had burned my wife’s memories, and it stung my eyes. I studied the room, the soothing, yet disturbing music fading. I saw a picture of my grandparents, and unwelcome memories flooded in, drowning me, choking me, bringing tears to my eyes. I tried to brush them away, but my mind became strangely fixated. I remembered the tales of mystery and terror that grandpa would tell me when I was still a child, sitting on his lap. His breath would reek of the sweet, hard smell of scotch as he told me terrifying stories he swore were true. It seemed in retrospect that they must have taken some sort of sick pleasure in scaring the wits out of a naive eight-year-old. I felt now like I felt then — scared and helpless.
The singing grew louder then, shaking me out of my grim nostalgia, and pounding in my head. It was frightening, yet at the same time, somehow calming. It was like a drug-induced dream, my brain began to feel numb, as that voice echoed in my mind, striking deep colourful waves of emotion in the depths of my soul. I felt like weeping, but no tears would come. I remembered again the stories my grandfather would tell me. I remembered stories of penance and retribution. Superstitious myths of spirits of punishment and justice that, as I grew up, I supposed were intended to elicit obedience in wayward children. Spook stories that would keep children in line — be naughty and the bogeyman will get you — stuff like that. But something in one story came to mind and made me shiver, because there was something oddly familiar about it all of a sudden. I remembered something about singing. A singing spectre of vengeance that repaid the injustices committed against the innocent. I tried to dismiss the idea from my mind.
The singing grew yet louder then, and more appealing. I wanted to be with that voice. Then, in one brief eye-opening moment, as the music became seductive, I became very afraid. Terrified, even. Because I knew then, and I believed with every ounce of my being what I was up against. The Banshee. The very same spirit that was accounted to me by my grandparents. The Banshee would punish me for the murder of my wife. Damn her! Even in her death she torments me!
The singing became louder still, and closer, and more intriguing. It enticed me and lulled me, like a baby’s lullaby. My fear began to leave me, and I felt so calm, and at peace. At that moment, I thought nothing of the Banshee. All I cared about was the music. It was soft, and sweet, like the sweetest nectar in my ears. I was feeling very cold, and tingling, like a glass of champagne. To my own bewilderment I realized that I had an uncomfortable erection. The transformation from terror to arousal was dizzying, but I wasn’t able to think rationally. I wanted so much to be with that voice; to kiss the music-filled lips of the songbird. I moved like a slow-moving stream to the door, to greet the Banshee; but at the moment when the song was most inviting, the seduction turned sour. I began to feel cold, and a harsh wind began to blow off the crashing waves that kissed the rocks of the shore. The windows of the cabin blew open, and I heard the most ear-piercing cry. The music grew louder and louder, drawing me into its pulsing, hypnotic rhythm. But I fought it, and ran like the wind across the room. Whimpering like a dog and crying like a baby, I crawled into the closet. I tucked myself into the fetal position, my knees pressed tight up against my chest. I was safe and warm in my womb-like closet. I closed the closet door all but an inch, from where I spied out. The singing began drumming in my head, a melody I recognized as the same I had been playing earlier in the day. She sang no words, only sounds. But with such malice. There was no emotion in the song now, but yet the voice was so appealing.
The wind howled and screamed as the door opened, and in flew the most beautiful, most terrifying thing I had ever seen. The Banshee, in all her horrific glory, had come for me. But I wouldn’t let her take me! Oh no! I sank further into the closet, not blinking or making a sound. I found myself staring at her face. She was dressed all in white, from head to toe — almost like a wedding gown — although I’m not exactly certain I saw her at all. That is, not like I saw myself. It was like I could see right through her. And she had this light around her; like some sort of aura, that filled the room with light. Her body floated on a cloud of white linen, and she called to me by name. I shuddered and closed my eyes for the first time since she entered the room. Sweat rolled down my face like an Amazon rainfall, and I clenched my teeth tightly. I heard the singing come closer to me, and I felt the draft from the closet door opening on my face. I looked up slowly, and opened my eyes slightly. What I saw was so beautiful, yet so horrible. I found myself drowning hopelessly in her liquid eyes. And her face was like the radiant face of the most fair, most glorious maiden Scotland had ever seen. Helen of Troy’s face may have been one to launch a thousand ships, but this face shone brighter than the sun. She had the face of a goddess. Her amber hair flowed freely, blowing in her face, and her eyes, like glowing pieces of fiery emerald, shone into mine. Yet there was a darkness; a knowing, right behind those eyes that frightened me and kept me in rapture at the same time.
When she looked at me with those eyes, my heart felt like it was going to melt. My face was already looking like melted wax, I had cried so much. Death filled the air. I could begin to taste it like musty air everywhere. I could feel Its grip tight around my throat. I stared at her for a brief eternity, and I hung on her every move. My whimpering ceased abruptly as I saw her lips begin to move, as if to speak.
“Come to me,” she said, in a voice that sounded like a dove’s coo. And my heart was so still, that for a moment I feared it would stop beating. And then there was a complete, calming peace in my soul. Because now everything was all right. All was numb. My true love had come to relieve me of all my pain, and take away my guilt and fear. I rose and walked to her, and the moment she touched me, my body became limp. I looked up into a decayed, skeletal face and smiled, oblivious to fear. She took me in her rotted arms and carried me out the door, to the shore, across the rippling waves, and into the setting sun.