Hissing winds threaded through the street, causing the trees to dance with abandon. An old woman clutched her pea coat tightly. Tom watched as her scarf flew back, causing her gray hair to thrash around her face. She clutched a bag-of groceries? He couldn’t tell for sure.
He turned onto Kylemore road, now only 300 yards from the church. Though there was a light within, he could see no sign of churchgoers. One lone woman sat on the steps of the gothic relic, her head down and shoulders hunched.
Something was wrong with her. Tom quickened his steps.
A piercing wail tore from the woman’s throat. The wind kicked up and a tree bent over, shaking fiercely under the sapphire sky. He rushed ove. A black shawl hooded over her face. She was small by the looks of her thin hands and the threadbare little slippers she wore.
“Can I help you, miss?”
She sobbed loudly. Her body hiccupped and Tom nearly jumped when he heard a deafening crack of thunder close by.
“We should go inside. Another storm has started.”
She didn’t budge.
“What’s your name?” he asked, leaning further to see if he could make out her face under the hood. All he could see was the smooth cheek that caught a bit of moonlight.
“Moira,” she whispered.
He took a seat next to her on stone steps, which were cold, but dry. “Are you here for the rehearsal?” Tonight was his sister Lenora’s wedding rehearsal.
She shook her head.
A bird cawed and the sound pierced through his ears like a needle. Moira started wailing again. The searing pain of their two cries forced him to put his hand to his ear for a moment. What was wrong with her?
“Is there something I can do?” he asked.
She lifted a handkerchief to her face and sobbed again.
Tom had no experience with counseling grief. His mother was the one who handled things like that. He’d have to make do until someone else arrived. Where was Father Paul? Surely a church aide heard the scream. Moira’s cries were loud enough to raise the dead.
He fiddled in his pocket, searching for something to say. His fingers felt the warm plastic of his cell phone. “Is there someone I can call for you?”
“No.” Again, her words were only a whisper in the wind.
“My family is coming soon. We’ve got a rehearsal going on tonight. Perhaps you want to come in and watch?”
Moira answer was to finger her handkerchief again. Her long and smooth fingers showed no hint of wrinkle or age. She must be in her twenties.
“Do you live around here?” Maybe he could ask Father Paul to call her family. If they were members of the Parish, the church would have their phone number on file.
“I don’t have a home,” she said.
Was that why she was crying on the doorstep of a church? Maybe she wanted to shelter here for the night to get away from the storm.
“I’m sorry, Moira. Are you hungry?”
“I’ve no need for food.”
Tom had no clue what to do. “What do you need? Should I go inside and see if I can find Father Paul or another priest?”
“The priests have their duty. I have mine.” She sighed.
“What is your duty?”
“To mourn…the dead.” The last bit was barely audible, but seemed to remind her that she’d stopped crying because she started all over again. Another high and sharp sound that forced him to cover his ears.
In front of him on the green, a tree split in half. The lighting was too close.
“Moira, we need to get inside, away from the lightening.”
“I cannot go inside, Thomas.”
He hadn’t told her his name. “How do you know who I am?”
She stood. The motion caused her long scarf to fall back, revealing an exquisite face with high cheekbones. Her hair was dark and silky. Streaks of mascara and eyeliner ran down her face, leaving dark smears under her eyes.
“Come with me.”
“But, the lightening is too dangerous. We need to stay under the eaves.”
A strong grip yanked him forward, causing him to trip on the step. He avoided falling as she pulled him in the direction of the church cemetery.
He made the sign of the cross with his free hand. Cemeteries creeped him out, though he’d spent a lot of time in them as a kid when three grandparents died.
“Where are we going?”
Silence. Why did her distinct lack of verbalization surprise him? He fumbled along as she dragged him across several graves. Though her steps were measured, he felt as if he were jogging to keep up.
Then, she stopped. Her long fingers pointed to a grave.
Tom bent over to make out the name. When he couldn’t see, she pushed him down to his knees.
Carved in stone, only a foot from his face, was the name Thomas Kerry.
“That’s my name!”
“It is you I am here for, Tom.”
Shaking her hand off his shoulder, Tom scrambled to his feet. “But, I’m not dead!”
“Yes, you are.” She pulled out a butcher knife and plunged it into his gut. “See?”
He did see the glint of metal as it plunged in, but he couldn’t feel it.
“You stabbed me!” He backed away and pulled out the knife. It fell on the ground with a light thump. Where was the blood?
“We need to go, Tom.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
She touched his face and despite her ice-cold fingers, the touch warmed him. Her sad, exquisite beauty reached into him, seeping from her skin to his, settling down into his chest.
“Who are you?”
“I will take you across the river to the other side.” Her face was dry now.
“But, what are you?” he repeated. Each breath was to force away the panic.
“I am Moira. The Kerry clan’s Banshee.”