A little tale entitled:
The Banshee Wails
To know the truth.
We each owe a debt and we can pay it in this life or the next, the choice is always up to you. Most people choose the later, rolling the dice and hedging the bet, hoping the debt never actually comes due. I was one of the lucky ones, I learned early enough to pay up front because credit always comes at a cost.
I was sixteen when my sister died. It was just another Halloween night in southern California but this night the Santa Ana winds had arrived and on their coattails, the Banshee rode. I heard her wail just after dusk and just in case you have been fortunate enough never to have heard her keen, you cannot mistake it for anything else. It is a mournful sound, lonely and cold like a lone fog horn on a silent snowy night.
My sister Ellen had been ill for some time but even when I heard the song of the Banshee I didn't imagine it was for her. She was only seven years old but with a soul so old you knew from the moment she was born, she already understood more about life than the rest of us who had been here for awhile. She was blessed with the face of an angel and thick dark auburn hair and eyes of such a deep blue you needed look at them twice before deciding on their actual color.
She was beautiful still, even in the end, the disease not having eaten away at her. We were lucky I guess for that much. Or maybe it made it harder, I can't be sure.
I was sitting in the living room when I heard Ellen call out to me. I didn't hurry, I was sixteen after all but I soon stopped the game I was playing and went in to check on her. She was sitting up in bed, her hair down over her shoulders and across her pillow like an fiery cloak. She looked pale, more so than she ever had been and I immediately became worried.
"Did you hear that, Will?"
I realized then that she had heard the same thing I did but I refused to let on.
"Do you mean the wind, El? It's just the Santa Ana blowing."
She stared at me then, the cutting kind of stare that told me to stop the nonsense because she saw right through me.
"Not the wind. That was the Banshee." She sat there on her bed, her head cocked slightly to one side as she listened to the sound of her own death calling her soul out into the night.
I was sick, my stomach churned and twisted and I wanted to go and get my parents. I didn't want to do this alone.
"No, El. It's just the wind. Just the Santa Ana winds come calling."
I was trying to convince myself as much as I was trying to convince her but in the end, I did neither.
Ellen's gaze was still looking at something I could not see when she whispered, "Come closer to me, Will."
I was terrified to get closer to her, the way she looked so far off and dazed but I was just as afraid not to. My love for my sister was stronger than my fear however and I walked over and sat down on the twin bed next to her.
I took her hands into mine, I remember how cold they were and thinking that it wasn't right. For these two tiny and oh so gentle hands to be so cold.
"I will die tonight, Will."
I yelled loud enough to make myself cringe at the sound of my voice but Ellen didn't even seem to notice.
"We can't stop it. Will. You can't stop it no matter how much you wish it not to be so. But you need to know something."
I was beyond listening and beyond grief. I wanted to run away, to hide from her. I couldn't bear the pain.
But she continued.
'There is another life beyond this one Will so don't be afraid."
Was this delirium? Wishful thinking on the part of a dying child?
"We are put here for a purpose, sometimes we can see our purpose clearly and other times it is cloudy. But remember that Will. We are all here for a purpose. Mine was just to teach you how to love and to give your heart freely." She touched my cheek with her icy fingers.
"Your heart is opened now and you must keep it that way. Your purpose has yet to come to light but when it does, you will understand."
I wanted no part of her nonsense, this was gibberish and I only wanted my sister. My head ranted and railed as my heart shattered inside my chest.
All this happened even as I understood she was telling me the truth.
I cried then and she held me, a child consoling a man who could not yet comprehend the loss he hadn't yet begun to grasp the depth of. In time I would understand that there is no bottom to grief but I didn't know that then.
She was holding me in her arms when she died but I knew it the moment it happened. It wasn't that she let go of me, on the contrary, she held me tightly to her as she passed through me in an instant.
I felt her as she left, a still entity with all her hopes and dreams going with it. I saw it all. Her life, her moments of pure joy and surprisingly to a young man who had yet to understand, very little sadness.
I stopped crying long enough to see her pale shadow stand before me, long fiery hair swirling around her head like a soft red halo. She smiled at me then and I think I smiled back. She gave no notice to her body on the bed as if it was discarded clothing that no longer fit her and that she no longer required.
There was a moment I wanted to go with her, to follow her where she was going. There was no fear on her face, only peace and contentment and even as a young man I wished to know that same tranquility. I reached for her hand but she pulled away from me, blowing me a kiss as she faded into the air and was gone.
That was many years ago and I am an old man of eighty-nine now. My life has been blessed with a wonderful wife, four beautiful children and nearly a dozen grandchildren.
Like I said, I've been lucky.
Now, it is Halloween night and the Santa Ana wind is blowing in again from the east.
Once more I hear the woeful wail of the Banshee but this time it is my name she is calling. It is as clear as a whisper in my ear and yet there is no fear.
Ellen is sitting beside me, her long auburn hair flowing across her shoulders and tickling my arms.
She is holding me tightly to her as she did that night so long ago.
And this time I know.
She will not leave me behind.